Sunday, 3 March 2013

Remember to breathe

Yesterday saw round 2 of the Innerleithen Innerduro series and we were lucky enough to wake up to blue skies. After a week of little or no rain, the trails weren't the usual Innerleithen muddfest either.

Round 1 had been a traditional enduro with 3 long, technical, muddy descents linked by 3 climbs (including a few push ups). There had been a great turn out despite cold, wet weather with some great results and much fun.

Saturday's race was a slightly different format - 2 stages during the day and then the same 2 stages at night.

Once again the guys and girls at Innerleithen MTB Racing didn't let us down with the trails they let us play on. Their reputation for fun, challenging trails attracted some of Scotland's (and the UK's) best enduro riders...Katy Winton, Joe Barnes and Crawford Carrick Anderson.

Stage 1 was long, long, long! (Longer for me than most other riders.) There was a mix of greasy, muddy, steep and rooty and saw us riding down trails most of us usually ride up.

Then for the long ride and push all the way back up to the top of the DH trails to start stage 2, which was a different kettle of fish all together. It was fast with some steep, more woodsy sections, joining up with the main DH trails right back down to the bottom again.

I was super slow, but managed to make it down both runs with only a few little sit downs on the trail. I had a few moments, popped over the top of a few berms, missed a few corners and a hugged a few trees, but managed to hang on and stay the right side up.

I'm not as fit as I should be at the moment (and a late night with a few too many glasses of wine didn't help), so I was glad of the break back at the van whilst we waited  for it to start getting dark.

I've not done any night riding at all this winter, so I was pretty nervous hanging around the car park listening to all the usual excited race chat.  I was under no illusion that I was only racing myself, but the trails were demanding in the daylight, so I knew I'd have to be totally on the ball. It was just too late to start making excuses, I should have gone out for those night rides instead of curling up in the warmth, indoors instead.

The first night run was due to open at 5.15, but because the day had been so clear and sunny, it didn't get dark until almost 6 o'clock. So even after a very slow climb back up the hill, there was quite a queue up at the top waiting to to get going again. Luckily the marshals up the top had a good supply of juice, Haribos, millionaire shortbread, bananas and chat to keep our spirits up.

Gradually lights started getting switched on and riders started lining up to get going again.

If I thought I was slow on stage 1 during the day, I was even slower in the dark!

The drops were definitely bigger, trees closer together and descent steeper in the dark than they had been in daylight. Although I'd managed to get a clear run down during the day, because I was so much slower at night, I had to keep pulling over to let the fast boys past and struggling to get going again. Not that it really made too much difference to my performance.

I got down to the bottom and let out the breath I'd been holding most of the way down. It had been tougher than I expected and I felt a bit disappointed by just how much mincing I'd done, but I'd made it down and there was only one more up and back down left.

The only thing that kept me going on that last climb up was the knowledge that the final stage would be fun (and that I'd be able to get a nice cup of tea at the bottom).

There was less of a queue at the top, so I managed to get a clearer run down and spent much less time sitting on the trail and much more time riding, although I hung on to the brakes the whole way down. As I hit the final few turns, there was someone right behind me but since there was nowhere for me to pull in and let him past, I had to ride faster than my terrified mind was comfortable doing, but I made the turns, made that drop, got round the roots and got to the finish line in one piece (even if I did have the look of a frightened rabbit).

My times were pretty awful, but I finished and, despite having my heart in my throat for the night runs, really enjoyed myself.

There was a really good, strong field of women riders, so I didn't get anywhere near the podium except to sit on it to have a cup of tea. Local rider Katy Winton stormed home again to take an impressive first place, followed by Fiona Beattie and Sophie Buckingham.

All the podiums saw at least one local rider on them, proving that practice can make perfect.

Round 3 is at the end of this month and reverts back to the usual day time stages. So I've got 3 weeks to  practice, practice, practice. I'm not sure 3 weeks is enough to turn me into an enduro goddess, but maybe I'll be able to ride a little bit of the trail without having my brakes on and holding my breath!