Whether on foot, on bike, or on skies, our committed athlete Ben Bardsley has pushed his body to the limit in 2013. In this blog, he reflects on an eventful year to date.
I was as fit as a fiddle back in May when I ran Fairfield Horseshoe -my first English fell running championship race of the season.
Two weeks before that I had come 4th and 1st veteran over-40 in the Ultra Tour du Mole (35km, 1583m ascent). This is a race that goes around and over The Mole -a big hill close to the town of Cluses, which lies midway between Chamonix (France) and Geneva (Switzerland).
After The Mole race I had plenty of time to exercise my lungs during two weeks of ski touring in Lyngen (Norway).
Fairfield (14.5km, 914m ascent) went pretty well, for a while at least. I was in the chasing pack at the highest summit, but endured a bad descent. To add insult, my calf cramped up in the final mile.
Some intensive massage followed before I boarded the plane for Zegama (Spain) and, as part of Team inov-8, the opportunity to race against all the big-hitters over a world-famous 42km mountain course in the opening Skyrunning event of 2013.
Unfortunately, just 50 minutes into the race, I pulled up lame. Aaaaaaaargh! I was so annoyed. In 32 years of racing, this was only the third race I had ever had to pull out of a race. I am not one to give-in, so this hurt me, a lot.
Back home in the UK, I worked hard on the injured muscle. I hit the bike and also started swimming in the nearby lake.
All was looking pretty sweet, so I laced up my inov-8 X-Talon 212s and headed off to Buckden Pike Fell Race (another English championship race) to face the music. It was probably a bad idea but I thought ‘what the hell, I’m always up for a challenge.’
At just 6km in length and with 486m of ascent, the race was short and steep. I gave it absolutely everything -just check out the grimace on my face! (see below)
I descended much better than I had done at Fairfield and finished fifth veteran over-40.
Things were on the up; that was until I wrote off my car off in a head-on collision.
I walked away pretty much unscathed, but in the aftermath my back muscles went into spasm. The pain was pretty scary and it took four weeks of regular deep tissue massage to get the muscles to relax.
The pain was made worse by the fact I had to miss the Mont-Blanc Marathon and inov-8 athlete retreat in the Alps.
I spent a week watching my inov-8 buddies Tweet countless breathtaking photos from the Chamonix valley. Well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that!
A few weeks later I was able to get back on the road bike. Safe to say, the slick tyres took a real pounding for about a month or so as I took my frustrations out on the bike!
I needed to be back running, however. I set my sights on July’s British and English championship race at Blisco Dash -a classic race of 8km up and down one of the Lake District’s roughest fells.
It was, as expected, insanely fast and furious. I got stuck right in and eventually finished fourth over-40 veteran.
After that it was back on the bike again -and this time the serious business of the four-day Transmaurienne MTB race in the French Alps.
Joined by inov-8 teammate Morgan Donnelly, we raced hard. Every day we were in the saddle for several hours, climbing total ascents of 2,500m. Every day Morgz and I finished within a minute of each other.
That, however, all changed on day three when Morgz suffered two punctures, only to discover his two spare tubes were for his road bike and those belonging to his children! Oops!
I was really pleased with my end result of 6th veteran over-40 veteran -only 35 minutes behind ex-pro and world champion Jerome Chiotti.
I followed this up with the Tour de Ben Nevis -an Enduro race that featured a perfect blend of demon down-hilling, killer climbs and seemingly endless endurance. Despite bending my rear mech, I finished 2nd veteran over-40.
Then followed the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race. Last year’s race was held amid the worst conditions imaginable. At the finish, I was pretty much hypothermic.
This year it was totally different. The ground was dry and the going good. I had the bit between my teeth and in the last half mile managed to pull past Lewis Craven and finish in 8th position, narrowly missing a veteran over-40 podium place. If you like traditional, grassroots racing with a gritty edge, this awesome race is the one to do.
October began in the best way possible -another team victory for my club, Borrowdale, in the Ian Hodgson Mountain Running Relays, held in the Lake District.
I was on the anchor leg together with club-mate Jim Davies, who has been keen as mustard this year.
How would I get on? Well, I was pretty nervous to say the least, but, at the same time, the adrenalin was racing around my body.
We set off in front, but our lead was only 30 seconds. The mist engulfing the mountains probably played to our strengths, this being our local stomping ground and all that, but we were relentless in our fast-paced approach and gained three minutes on our nearest rivals.
Racing hard over the mountains on such a wild day, I was in my element.
To cap a memorable day, Jim and I enjoyed a euphoric return to the finishing field, bringing the team home to a 17th consecutive relay win.
It has been a difficult year but I guess sometimes in life we need to be reminded not to take it all for granted. Right, what’s next?