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£68.19. That's how much fuel the van had used up driving from home (via Pets at Home to buy cat food...) to get to the race venue and then across to the hotel I'd booked us in, for the National Champs.

That's quite a lot, I thought to myself as I sat on the still-muddy-from-doing-a-practice-lap bike in the car parkon the turbo trainer, spinning my legs out to get them ready for the race. I still have to do all of that again.

Still reeling from the sheer amount of diesel that I'd used up, I stood on the start line, slightly concerned about how well I was going to do. The morning's course pre ride had left me feeling slightly flummoxed - I couldn't get any grip or put down any power. It was super wet and super muddy, with which I have no problem but I just couldn't get any momentum. I ran my tyres (Supermuds on one bike, Limus' on the other) as low as I dared, given the cheeky rocks half buried in some of the gravel road sections and the horrible transition off the pupose built bridge onto some tarmac that made me wince every time I hit it, but I still found myself wheelspinning where those around me seemed to gain some traction. It certainnly wasn't me picking the wrong lines - for most of the course there weren't any! It was just huge, wide stretches across fields with fairly benign turns that, under normal circumstances, I'd be relishing. The more technical section wasn't TOO much of an issue either, I'd sort of figured out what was quicker riding and what was quicker off and running and - for me- wasn't riding it too badly but, yes, I was struggling to get the bike moving for big chunks of the lap.

First lap underway and I got an "acceptable" start. From the 2nd row on the grid I was probably somewhere between 15 and 20th as we turned off the start straight gravel and onto that mud I was worried about. I was happy enough with that - it was far enough forward to hear the howling of "mid pack problems" brakes behind me, anyway. Normally I'd immediately set about trying to move up. Annoyingly, as I'd prediced from the practice, instead I foud myself watching people ride past me.

My riding was "bad"- no mistakes as such were being made and my route round the corners wasn't too bad (given how little choice the ground conditions were offering!), but I was having to resort to a weird 'sit right back in the saddle and make thrutchy movements to push the rear tyre down deep enough to get grip' riding style.

The cost of all that diesel, the hard work people around me have put in and Angela's shouting from the pits came to the forefront of my mind and I rapidly came to the conclusion that, well, that's just what I'd have to crack on with then. Carry on 'thrutching' across the fields, if that's all that I could do. So I did.

Thanks to VeloUK for the pic

I tried to put effort in whenever it resulted in the rear wheel propelling me and, eventually, I started to regain a place, then another...and so on.

I saw, somewhat depressingly, that the places I wanted to be battling for, were way ahead, so I set about resetting what I wanted from the event and concentrated on just holidng my own and not crashing.

In it's own little way that worked and I found myself, by the last lap, back up into the top ten and actually looking forward to the tricky bits to test myself. I might not have been the smoothest rider out there, but if everyone's internal monologue could be seen, I was probably the cheeriest, with a little 'whoop' each time I exited a techicnal little section upright ( and an 'oooff' on the one bit I got completely wrong, with half a lap to go, flinging myself over the bars into a soft but cold bit of deep, deep mud!)

Whoop (just...)!

The last lap spill didn't really affect anything, race wise. The bike carried on working as it had done all race (I'd not bothered changing as the mud seemed wet enough to not clog anything up), with just a palm-of-hand slap to the brake lever to get it back into the right position and the gap to the rider behind me was big enough to allow me the time to crash, roll around, feel stupid, get up, retrieve the bike, run to a suitable place to remount and get back to wheelspinning - without coming under any pressure.

I'd not really gained enough ground on 8th place ahead of me for it to have messed up another possible move up the finishing order either, so any grumpiness about it was left in the muddy puddle I'd had a lie down in.

And that was that. A good 4 minutes down on the winner as I crossed the finish line and started to wonder how may goes in the washing machine it would take to get the white bits back in my socks. Nontheless, 9th on a 'bad' day kept my 'always in the top 10' record alive for the season, meant I beat the raking I'd been given at the start and, strictly speaking, is my best finish at a National Champs too. It also meant I didn't feel the need to be in any way grumpy. Slightly upset I couldn't really push myself (a fact that was backed up when I checked and saw that my average heart rate was a good 10bpm down on usual, suggesting I was never really going flat out) perhaps, but still chuffed that I'm in a position, fitness wise, to compete in the top ten nationally at all - cue a shout out to Lee @ Transition Endurance Coaching who's made that happen. Big thanks too, to Angela and everyone in the pits / around the course who cheered me on. It might not have looked like it, but I could hear it all and it did help. :)

Final round of the National Trophy next weekend, which (if the Horwich race I helped out at, a few weeks back is anything to go by) will require more wheelspinning and a fair bit of jogging! I think it's safe to assume the early season dry races are over!

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