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3 Peaks Guide: Part One

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross race in Yorkshire has long been billed as the hardest cyclocross race in the UK, if not the World. And for good reason. Over 38 miles of finest Yorkshire terrain, half of which are unsurfaced and a with large amount unrideable, it is a unique test of rider and ‘cross bike. After a record number of entries this year, the lucky 650 riders allocated a race start have their confirmation now and for many thoughts will be turning toward how to prepare over the next 3 months or so. This is the first part of a 3 part series distilling some of my thoughts and experiences that both first timers and those returning to the race may find useful in preparing for race day in late September.

I’ve had a relationship with the 3 Peaks Cyclocross since 1991. Buoyed on by youthful naivety and good advice from a good friend, I picked up the 1st newcomer prize for 14th overall. Coming back next year, I improved to pick up 10th. Things have never been quite the same since as I took a break at that point, from the Peaks and from cycling - till 2005. It certainly didn’t seem any easier, coming back to the race 13 years on, and unable to attain my previous level of performance, I’ve had to learn again how to train for what is a totally unique cyclocross experience. The race has changed much since 1992, and not only in route - back then it was largely the preserve of gruff Northern ‘cross riders only. Now the standard in depth is much, much higher and riders and runners from a multitude of disciplines, cycling and otherwise, take part so making it a much tougher race to do well in.

Part One - Peaks training

One seems to spend an inordinate amount of time carrying the bike in the Peaks. And it is hard, mentally and physically. But that is what makes the race special of course. For the uninitiated, the first climb up the un-named fellside just to the south of Simon Fell is always a shock. To the experienced 3 Peaker, it is…well, still a bit of a shock. It just rears up, getting steeper and steeper till the temptation to use your free hand from carrying is almost overwhelming. By this point there are a steady stream of riders scrabbling at the wall on the left, the rest scattered over the fellside, looking for a clean line upwards. Whernside is for me, and many others, the hardest carry - it’s a long time to be thinking about how uncomfortable the bike is, the rocky nature of the track is unforgiving on the feet and fatigue sets in quickly enough after the calm of the road is left behind. Either way, time on your feet spent carrying the bike, preferably up really steep hills is key to a good experience on race day.

How much carrying you can do will be dependent on the topography of your local area. I’m lucky and live in 3 Peaks like territory, so 20 minute carrying climbs are on my doorstep. Others, in more topographically challenged areas have been known to seek out long flights of steps or even office stairwells out of hours to replicate the process. Either way, find somewhere where you can (even by doing reps up and down) get in some carries of over 10 mins minimum, at a walking or jogging pace. And learn how to carry properly – nothing is more uncomfortable than a ‘cross bike dangling vertically off your shoulder. The more horizontal and balanced in the centre the top tub is, the more comfortable. Don’t worry about running training – unless you are genetically gifted you won’t be doing much running in the race. If you like it, go trail or fell running. If you don’t, just make sure you do spend time walking and carrying, preferably in steep terrain.

Get out for some long off road rides too if you can. The Peaks is a total all-body workout, what with the carrying climbs and harsh descents. A lack of time spent off-road can come back and bite you in the latter part of the race as everything begins to hurt, not just your legs. But mix road and off-road sections up on these rides. There is a rhythm to the Peaks – fast road, stupid hard carry, tough descent and then repeat x3. Emulating this type of pedalling hard then walking then descending pattern in training will mean you are prepared well for the demands of race day.

There will be more on equipment, nutrition and race knowledge to come in Parts 2 and 3 over the summer, including on my Fluent in Cross blog. Enjoy your training!

26 June 2014

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