Last weekend we decided to see how I would fair on a long off road ride which would contain a fair bit of climbing.  Previous months have consisted of two long weekend rides mostly on the road bike just to get back into the swing of things, so this would be the first long distance off road spin.
We decided that the Mournes would be a pretty good spot to pick especially as we knew the area quite well, so we picked the Mourne Mountains 2 advanced mtb guided route which we offer to clients through SummitMoutainBiking - 60km distance and 1km of vertical climbing, not quite up to Breck Epic standards but a start nonetheless.
Conor had his Garmin GPS with him so a full route map can be seen on the Garmin website
So how'd it go?  Well we were out for a good 5 hours, with an hour of so stopping time for food/water/punctures etc.  The pace was steady rather than marathon race pace and the climb up Leitrim Lodge (on average 11% slope) was pretty tough but the ride over the mountain reminded  us of what a great landscape the mournes are.  I had done a couple of TT race efforts the day before in order to measure my training levels so I admit that I was feeling a bit more fatigued than I would have hoped for such a relaxed ride.  Long distance off road riding is definitetly more energy sapping than on road so the lesson for the day - bring more food! 
Its been a whole six months since the last race and the first of the year is always a shock to the system.  In this case it was the first round of the Irish cross country national points series set in the foothills of the wicklow mountains south of Dublin.  Local MTB club IMBRC had done a great job setting out a race course which wound its way through the trees of a local pine plantation and while there were no major long climbs there were plenty of little steep climbs to test the legs.  Five women had signed up for the Elite race - current national champ Cait Elliot, german racer Mel Spath, a welcome return to off road racing Jenny McAuley, myself and fellow northerner Val O'Neil.  With 4 laps of the course to do we were set off up a short fire road climb before hitting the singletrack.  The pace at the start wasnt too fast which I was glad as my legs still felt the previous months' long road rides.  I was happy to let Cait head into the first section of singletrack with the aim of keeping onto her wheel to see how it went.  At the next short open track Mel took her opportunity to come flying past - the race was on proper!  With Cait just ahead disaster struck, I started feeling really ill! Ok I was having to work super hard to keep the pace but I can usually last longer than half a lap!  What to do, finish or go on?  Well we had travelled 2 hours to get down there, so it was a case of ease right off, watch Jenny pass me and spend the next hour and a half going hard enough to finish and easy enough not to feel too rough, with a little spurt in the middle when Conor excitedly shouted "jenny's only 30secs ahead, go, go, go!" - I finished 4th place overall not exactly an explosive opener to the series but the course was great, the sun was out and I was back in the saddle racing.  A trip down to Blessington lakes for a picnic with friends in the warm spring sun was a perfect end to the day.

Summer must be on its way, a full week of sunshine is forecast, the trails are drying up and the temperatures are trying to rise. 
Training has been going well, even on a relatively restful week there was still time to go for an evening ride up Cavehill - a tough little bump in the landscape just beside the house - with such a nice clear evening you could see the Mourne mountains 70km to the south, lough Neagh and Slemish Mtn all from one vantage point.
Another sign of the coming summer season is an increase in SummitMountainBiking coaching and trail guiding business.  We've been partnered up with BBC DropZone Thrillseekers and ASDA Sporting Kids for a few taster sessions so Saturday morning should see some good mtb fun and games with the kids.
Sunday is the first Irish cross country race of the season, just south of Dublin, so heading down to see how the old fitness is shaping up - looking forward to it.