Monday, 6 October 2008


I love racing at Thetford, it is my most favourite of racing places and Dusk til Dawn the one event I look forward to over any other. Partly this stems from the fact that it's the last hurrah of the season, but also the fact that the atmosphere never falls short of brilliant thanks to skilled and attentive organisers and the way that they use their trails, which is rarely short of sublime. The weather forecast was none too promising but that's what we have waterproof shorts for, isn't it...

So, after a practise lap and lots of hellos, fifteen minutes standing on the start line in strong winds and sideways rain, we embarked on an amusing start loop behind a pace quad, holding position at the front of the pack with pointy elbows and a little give and take. Three fast laps of a swoopy, entertaining, singletracky course, swapping third and fourth with Fi, wind and rain less of a problem than they could have been thanks to the trees, some particularly unpleasant sucky mud but plenty of friends around to banter with, all ready to do battle with the night. It was shaping up so well...

And then when the normal lap four demons popped up (god i'm tired, this really hurts, have i got a puncture, i feel sick, is that a blister on my hand, i can't ride that, WHY?), there was nothing to answer them with. Completing The Thing, which sucked up my life and my energy for two years, battling that monster and sending it packing has turned me inside out in many ways and completely changed the way I feel about certain things. Apparently including racing.

There is an emptiness where the reserves of stubborness and determination used to be. It's not an unpleasant one, but it is unsettling, and as equally endless a bottomless pit as they were an unclimbable hill. The usual doubts and fears went clanging straight to the bottom of it with nothing to intercept them on the way.

And so when I got to the end of the lap I stopped, and sat down, and my wise and lovely pit crew Adam tried coaxing me out with new bottles and food and batteries for a few minutes whilst I tried to make sense of weird emotions, until he quietly reminded me that I really don't have anything to prove anymore. And, as usual, he was right.

I passed the rest of the night enjoying the rare and novel experience of wandering round a race site in the middle of the action, chatting and sharing quiet moments and coffee with friends old and new between laps, using the pointy stick of encouragement on pet soloists Phil, Gareth, Nigel (finishing his first ever 12 hour in fine fashion) and Fi (who took a frighteningly steely podium place as well as two large bacon sandwiches, both of which made us proud), practising my heckling on a very muddy One Speed Revolution who were thankfully going too fast to hear and generally lounging around watching the mud turn a different shade of grey. All to the familiar soundtrack of soggy grass and scorched disc rotors. Lovely.

After four laps at a fair old clip I still feel satisfyingly battered today and there's just as much wet, gritty kit mouldering in kit bags as there would have been had I rode the full twelve hours. There isn't a shred of regret, just the calmness that I still can't fathom and the reminder that sometimes it's harder to make the right decision that it is to carry on regardless of it.

And of course a strong intent to spend the next few months doing fun things on a bike that don't require the demon-beating mechanisms to be pressed into action, in the hope of coaxing them back out of retirement before I get fat and slow... ;o)


* "soften the f*** up". er, thanks, jo.


trio said...

Sounds like you had a good night.

Well done on the 3 peaks as well. I was the random voice shouting from amogst a load of cars near the end.

Tom said...

Jenn, glad to have finally caught up with you (albeit briefly) and had a wee chat re. dropping out (I stopped after my 3rd lap - but in my case it wasn't anything as grand as the GDR that has wiped me out - it was the transwales).

Miffed at myself for not continuing. But just wasn't "on it" at all and couldn't see the sense in torturing myself for another X laps.

As you say, time to kick back and ride for fun's sake through the winter. And maybe plan to do some events next year.



jumbly said...

Nothin' wrong with just riding for fun!

Anonymous said...

I remember an article you wrote about racing and Hamsters',circles etc in oppostion to Jo's 'racing is fun' article. It was some years ago now.
I think people get in to riding,go racing,get serious,and even more serious.then sometimes they want to go back to the cut offs and the love and the joy.
I think thats' a good thing.

Riding for fun is where peace lies.

Racing is fun too - sort of....
Different things for different times.


Jennifer Purcell said...

It's all about riding for fun - even the races in my opinion, but then I was never 'up there' with the fasties! If you can get in a cup of tea mid lap, then all the better...

Unknown said...

Happy to have been of help Jenn, at least while you needed it! You only have to ask in future. :^)

Oh, and given that I expect you're going to be 'cross racing for the next few months I'm not sure how you're going to end up fat or slow...

Jill Homer said...

Always riding for joy - makes sense to me.

Great post.

Rob Lee said...

You've always carved your own very distinct path Jenn; I'm sure this will be no different and you will be back doing what you do best - having fun whilst pushing your limits - in no time at all.

Keep enjoying it and have a wicked Winter.