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 ...

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