In the beginning…
In the beginning there was a dreamer. A solitary figure stood in a Berkshire field applauding as the National jerseys were handed out and unearthing a deep rooted but seemingly unrealistic ambition within him to be on that Nationals podium one day.
Well that dreamer was me, Mark Almond, a 40-something ex-American Footballer and keen mountain biker stood at the Wasing XC Nationals in 2012.
I’ve done a few big cycling events over the years, most notably the TransRockies stage race in 2011 where injury and poor form (not to mention a great team-mate) just about got me across the finish line in one piece, but I’ve always been a ‘backmarker’. I’ve certainly never won a race – yet – and my physique is definitely more Gridiron than pro-peloton but the one thing I can never be accused of is being unwilling to accept a challenge.
So with that in mind, 2014 sees me embark on probably the most demanding but exciting physical challenge of my life: a transformation from mountain bike ‘weekend warrior’ to genuine MTB race contender and one day, hopefully, maybe even a crack at that National Champs Vets podium.
To make the challenge even harder, I have decided that my MTB discipline of choice is marathon racing. Yes you really did read that correctly, the big guy wants to do endurance!
Why marathon MTB I hear you ask? Surely I’d be better suited to shorter, power disciplines or even road time trial perhaps? Basically anything that doesn’t involve huge hills to drag my 16.5 stone mass up, right? Well for me these questions are easy to answer. I firmly believe that to succeed at something, first you need to really want to do it. You need to feel it, crave it and enjoy it to even stand a chance of achieving your goal. As much as I love all forms of cycling, only marathon MTB evokes this unquenchable desire within me. Nothing in the bike world is more appealing than getting out into the wilderness and experiencing scenery most people never get the chance to see, whilst taking on nature in its own back yard and pushing yourself to extreme limits. It also represents the ultimate example of something I always crave in life – a true challenge.
Very few sports demand as much of the body as cycling and, with the huge toll that marathon MTB takes on the whole body, this is perhaps especially true of this particular form of cyclesport. For sure, my bodyweight will have to drop considerably and my physiology will need to change from a bulky muscle mass (with, I must confess, a somewhat soft centre!) to a leaner and more endurance friendly form. All this is needed before I even start my MTB and endurance specific training.
So what’s the plan? Initially it’s all about setting goals, losing bodyweight through sensible nutritional plans and base training. Between now and March, these latter two areas are key in order to form the basis on which to build across the 2014 season and beyond. The goals, however, are already in place.
For 2014 I will be competing in a few regional races starting with the Thetford Winter Series 4 hour in January. This will be my ‘base event’ to see where I’m at and get a realistic idea of just how much work is needed. Being in my base training phase and knowing just how quick these races are, I am not expecting a great result by any means (not being last will be a good start) but it’s a toe in the water. After that I will go on to ride various challenge events as I build to the big one for 2014 – Singletrack 6.
This six day MTB stage race by TransRockies Events, the Singletrack 6, takes place in the Canadian Rockies in July and forms the focus of my initial race season. Again I am not expecting a huge result but a good finish and sense of achievement are the main goals as the fitness and race craft hopefully start to build. The aim is to then continue building fitness and experience in order to be more competitive for the 2015 season.
The Nationals dream may of course only ever be just that – a dream. Getting to that level is a mammoth task in itself. The Vets field is incredibly competitive and I have a very long way to go to even stand a chance of running with those guys, but it’s a challenge and an adventure that I’m keen to face.
So, in 2016 I will take stock, see where I am and decide whether that National Champs possibility is a viable one to pursue further. One thing is for certain. If I think it is even partially viable, I will pursue it with all my heart and give it my all. But that decision is for another day. So the journey begins.
I’d love to share this whole experience with you as I progress through the highs and lows of training and competing. From weight loss and base training to the amazing Singletrack 6 race in July and onwards from there, you’re warmly invited to come along for the ride with any tips and advice greatly appreciated.
Until next time, when the training plan starts to kick in, happy training and keep on pedaling!