And so I return, beaten up, tired, wet and cold. Bad though? Definitely not! When cycling to college I've been able to sprint for miles, I feel stronger (in the legs at least) and just more capable of cycling!

So how have I managed such a thing? Well, I more or less followed John's routine that i quoted in Part One - I've been on the bike for 13-15 hours per week, I've joined the college gym and am down for two hours per week, and then there's running. Yes, I've been trying to get out on my own two feet without aid of my bike. It's slowly getting better...

What next? Well, as suggested by by forum training advisors, I'm currently having some time off from the intensity that I've been doing, but I still need to commute. I'm just backing off a bit. But the whole of this week and the start of next I plan to get out every night, then give myself a few days recovery before the Twentyfour12. I think that sounds entirely reasonable.

t's all well and good that I get fitter and healthier, but there's more to the racing than just the engine. The bike and the technique both need to be suitable for the races. So how am I doing there?

My bike is a Specialized Hardrock, Spesh's most basic mountain bike. I've replaced the front end with a RockShox Recon fork. I cunningly blew up the lockout, so I won't be using that. I can take the travel down to 80mm, though, which I think should be a tad more suitable for XC racing than the 130 I generally leave it at. My brakes are interesting. Up front I have a Hope Mono M4, while the back end has the original cable disc - it works, I'm happy.

A bike loaded up with a Hope brake, RockShox fork, branded finishing kit, you'd expect to see a nice shiny LX or XT drivetrain, right? Wrong! You've got a mix of Shimano Acera, Alivio, Tourney, Sram's Attack shifters and other junk all happily spinning along in the joyful old technology that is eight speed! Oh yes. What can I do to make it more "race-worthy"? Not a lot really, they're indexed, they shift perfectly fine and can take the knocks.

And to keep me rolling, I've got one of the pimpiest lightweight wheelsets you will ever see! Well, perhaps lightweight for DH... Up front is a stock wheel from a Hardrock Pro (long story), and at the back is a Deore laced on to a Mavic EX325. As for the rubbery hoop things, I generally stick with Continental Verticals - at £13 a tyre I can't complain.

What do I have to do to get all this ready for racing?

  1. Try and get used to the forks down at 80mm
  2. Consider investing in some bar ends, it may help with the climbs
  3. More suitable/lighter tyres
  4. Adjust the fit of the bike - saddle up, SPDs on, bars down

As for technique, I don't think I'm a bad rider but sometimes I'm not a smooth rider. If there's a jump, I like to take it, if there's a drop, I like to drop it, instead of rolling down it. This is fun, but not necessarily fast. My pedalling's fine, the cranks go round and round, my legs move up and down, fantastic. Climbing? Every rider's misery. I'd like to consider myself a decent enough climber, but they do tire me quite quickly. At the moment, I'm sit down, lean forward, drop the bike into an easier gear and spin my way to the top. If anyone would like to suggest a better technique, I'm all ears, but it's certainly working for me at the moment.

And then there's descending. Love it, I can't get enough - but sadly, I feel I'll need to be a tad more sensible when it comes to the downs in a race. Usually I pick the most fun line, now I need to pick the fastest line. Before I wouldn't mind doing a tiny bit of a detour so I can do a jump, now, every second counts.

All of which brings me to my next race - the Bontrager Twentyfour12. It's a 24 hour race, so that'll involve night riding, and night riding involves skill, or something like that. Still, I'll be there, illuminating the forest with my Cateye HL-RC220, badly taped to my stem and bars. Despite that, I've set myself a challenge - I want at least one of my night laps to be no more than 10 minutes slower than one of my day laps. My last challenge was to survive a run, and I managed that. I reckon that racing at night will be easier, but time will tell...