Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Twenty-two: what will be, will be. The British National Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships ...

My bravery, or madness, was met with mixed responses thisweekend; I was not meant to have tried to race but I was also meant to haveraced. Does that make sense?

I have a toddler – I no longer make sense – what was Isaying, again?

Oh, ...

I had decided, on a whim, to enter the Masters category forthe National Cross Country Mountain-bike Championships. I was really excitedabout this whim because I hadn’t raced, nationally, in three years, and Ireally missed it.

This race was meant to be a treat: no pressure, a day out,showing my baby girl the atmosphere of a mountain-bike race and the chance forme to see how much work I have to do to be able to race again. I have done a lot of post-8pm turbo work and I have raced a few local mountain-bike crits inthe past few months, so I have tried to boost my race-fitness.Although it is nowhere even half as near as much as I would have been ridingas an elite racer, a week of 8 hours’ training has me chuffed and sofa’don a Sunday evening.

And, recovery? What’s that? Lately, I’m interval trainingjust trying to keep Willow occupied – all day! I probably should be fitter ...

Sunday was to be all about enjoying racing my mountain-bike.Nothing else.

By Saturday afternoon, I was packed; Willow was packed; Ieven made a packed lunch for Nick. I was so well organised. The Masters racewas at a better time of day than I was used to in my Elite days so I waslooking forward to being finished and home by lunch time!

However, come midnight, Willow had other plans ...

My gorgeous little girl is cutting her canines. These gaveher a 39 degree temperature and the ability to scream relentlessly frommidnight to 3.30am. By the time we had settled her, it was 4.30am and I wasmeant to be up and leaving for Wasing at 5.00am. Hah! I thought that was ‘goodbye’to my race.

Thankfully and gratefully and madly, I was thrown alifeline.

Dan Jarvis, Andrew Claridge, Steve Jones and Kelvin Hoy, Ihope the cake was payment enough (Dan, I’ll make you some fudge!) Thanks tothose men, I was allowed to transfer my entry and at 10am, I was leaving hometo race the senior category. 

The senior category. 

What was I thinking?  

I arrived at the venue for 12pm – enough time to do apractice of the course. I felt incredibly foreign and lost despite witnessing aworld that didn’t seem to have changed. The course was flat – not what I like.Rooty – what I hate. And the main technical part was closed to practise. Havinglooked at it from the track below, I did decide that if I couldn’t ride itbefore I raced, I wouldn’t ride it at all. In fact, I returned to the carincredibly deflated because the two technical sections had beaten me.

One was a log-step section. I watched a few men go over itand realised I had not enough upper body strength to force momentumover these. Even in my Elite days I wouldn’t have. There was no chance now – I wouldhave face-planted. I opted for route B. The second was a drop off – nothing comparedto some of the stuff Nick makes me ride on our local routes. But, I couldn’tpractise it and I’m not in a position to risk injuries now.  I am constantly aware of Willow who needsmy energy. Being able to look after her comes first.

The old routines were easy enough to reinstate. Warming upwasn’t necessary – it was so so hot – but 15 minutes of composure was needed. Iwasn’t nervous, I was worried. Worried about leaving Nick to look after Willowin the heat. I was worried that I had been so utterly selfish in dragging herand him to this event. I kept thinking about my responsibilities and that Ishould perhaps grow up and give up. In hindsight, this psychology probably reflectspre-race nerves. But how could I be nervous? I wasn’t nervous – I was going to beracing Elite women who were going to destroy me. I was there to race againstmyself and ride bloody hard and to enjoy racing my bike again.

As I lined up to start, I learnt I had 5 laps, instead of 4;I forgot to place an extra bottle of water in the feed area; and, Nick had justinformed me that he and Willow wouldn’t be in the feed area because she wouldbe a risk, given her current energy and curiosity levels - I was feeding myself.But I wasn’t bothered. I was there to have fun. And, a familiar face in RachelFenton, reminded me of this. Thank you.

The gun sounded and to my shock, I found myself pickingthrough the field – the elite field – going through the draggy slopey section. Iwasn’t allowing myself to be too excited because I knew that I would lose timewith the B routes and that I wasn’t likely to last! Oh, and another thing Ididn’t do – lower my tyre pressure! I was racing on a rooty course with 35psi!Why?! However, I wasn’t doing too badly at all.

As we came to the log section, I knew I’d lose places. Ofcourse, Maddie Horton completed it effortlessly. Katy Simcock ran over it – why didn’tI think of that? And, I rode the B route – but so did others! That reallyboosted my confidence. And, as we came to the drop, I knew I’d lose time onchoosing the B route but I wasn’t alone! Naturally, this drop is nothingcompared to the World Cup courses Maxine Filby’s used to and she flew down thedrop and intercepted me – and so she should have! But I was in luck as there was aclimb directly afterwards that I could use to my advantage!

Lap one was over and Nick shouted that I was in tenth place.I think. I settled into my race rhythm and was actually feeling good. Lookingat my heart rate, I knew I could sustain that effort for an hour more ... afterthat, it would have been new to me!

The log steps approached and I jumped off and trotted overthem – this was such an improvement. And, I was feeling really settled backinto racing despite being out of it for three years. In fact, I was too settledbecause my mind began to wander ...

I haven’t a clue what I hit but I hit it hard. There was a momentwhen I actually wondered where my bike was and knew it would hit me soon. I hadbeen out of the saddle, accelerating and then I was on the floor. My elbow wasbleeding and I was stuck under my bike trying to compose myself.I had to be up quickly because I knew I had to gain time on the girls behind mebecause I would lose it on the drop. I think I managed to move in time, sorryif I slowed you.

I jumped back on and tried to throw myself into the raceagain. However, some tuft of grass hid a branch that had lodged itself inbetween my tyre and rim and my front tyre was deflating. I had no gas or pumpand it serves me right. Disorganised! And, to add to that, I don’t know whatthe hell was going on with my rear brake but it had decided enough was enough.

I was out.

I don’t know how to reflect upon this race. I knew I wasthere by chance. I knew I could be better prepared – logistically andphysically.

I do know, I loved it while I was doing it. But, could Ihave lasted the 5 laps? I don’t know now.

I do know, I feel like I slotted back into Elite racing,albeit briefly – but should I still race as a Master?

Sitting on the sofa, contemplating the weekend, I know Ishould have used insect repellent. The long walk back with the flat tyre leftme open to attack – bastards!

Thank you, gentlemen saviours and lady racers. I'm reinspired! Better start riding that bike more ...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Twenty-One: Am I mad or marvellously mad?

The last few months have been madness. Other teachers will understand.

There has been the mad panic of the missing controlled assessments needing to be completed; the mad rush of revision for the approaching exams; then there has been the madness for those mad teachers who mark the exams and some are mad enough to mark twice! And, all of this madness is iced with the madness of the summer term.

Teachers will understand how I am feeling today. At last, I can take a deep breath ... for a little while at least, because, I am still a parent of an increasingly energetic toddler! (Holidays? What are holidays?)

The last few months have been exhausting. I have neglected my writing, which is my therapy – I need it as much, as I need my bike, to think and reflect. I have neglected my bike – and being on it. And, just as my workload was increasing, my daughter has been becoming more and more and more energetic. In fact, I’m falling behind her.

How on earth can someone, weighing less than 12kg and standing less than 50cm tall, be so bloody intensely quick and consuming? I thought I was quite energetic but she floors me, literally!

Thankfully, my school-work is up to date (except one scheme of work I owe, sorry Shelley and Paul.) And my GCSE and A2 level exam papers are marked and returned. Now, I can settle into a chilled few weeks of bike-riding and baby-loving ...

Though there is one small problem. I’ve entered quite an important mountain-bike race.

I have madly entered myself into the British National Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championships.


Not as a senior – there is no way I could race for 4 laps. However, I am not quite sure I will be able to race for the three laps applicable to Masters women. It will be my first race as a proper Master. I have a baby and a job and I am over 30 – the perfect qualifications. However, the field is made from some incredibly strong and tough and quick women. I am worried.

Nick thinks my doing this is a joke.

But I’m serious. And, I am actually quite excited, in a strange way.

Of course, I know, my bike is not a race-worthy bike and is heavier than me. I know I haven’t raced properly since May 2009. I know I am not national-level race fit. I know it will be a huge awakening. But it is an awakening I need.

I want to race my mountain-bike again – and I want Willow to see me doing this. Admittedly, she will see me doing this quite badly on Sunday but she’s one, she’ll never remember! It will be next year and the year after that she does and I don’t want to let her down; I want to race well and show her.

This weekend is all about seeing how much I have actually lost so I know how much I need to do to get it back. I will be an athlete again!

The National Championships are at Wasing, near Reading, this weekend and I will be going. To race! Race myself.

I need to.

What the hell am I doing?!