Race Report – Ard Rock Enduro 2017

Ard Rock Enduro is a weekend long bike festival in Fremington, North Yorkshire with four sold out races hosting some 4,000 riders. I loved the event last year, but a sliced tyre on stage 1 killed any hopes of posting a respectable time, so I was looking forward to having another crack.

I was joined by a group of mates from the Isle of Man to ride the main enduro; 6 stages through slag heaps, old quarries and farmland spread over a 25 mile loop with almost 4,800ft of climbing. Stages 1, 2 and 6 were open to practice on Friday, but the remaining three were to be rode blind, making it that little bit harder to ride at race pace.

With practice on the Friday, I decided to take Thursday off work to allow myself plenty of time for the 300 mile drive. I arrived in Fremington late afternoon, but there wasn’t too much going on. Apparently rain all week had made setting up the event village more difficult than planned. My tent was with the boys on the boat over from the Isle of Man, so I had a great idea to kill a bit of time – I walked up to the end of the last stage to stash a few beers to share with the boys at the end of the race.

Practice
After a relaxed morning getting the bikes prepped and signing on, we went out for practice about 11. The night’s rain had disappeared but there was still a breeze in the valley, which had become a strong wind by the time we reached the top of Fremington Edge, the hill that held stages 1, 2 and 6.

Stage 1 seemed a little shorter than last year. It was still going to be an exhausting stage with a decent length mid-stage pedal, but a short climb had been removed. I was glad to see that the small rock garden which sliced my tyre last year had received some changes which now gave us the option to hit a jump and fly over the rocks.

The transition to stage 2 was a killer; a long climb then a slog across boggy moorland. The stage had a good mix of riding; flat out fields, fast singletrack, alpine switchbacks and technical rock sections, much of which would become far faster by knowing it better. I’d have liked to take a second practice run, but I couldn’t face riding across the marshes again.

2ND CLIMB

The climb up to stage 2, with the event village in the background. Photo: Chris Ward

Stage 6 was largely the same fast, grassy trail as last year, with the addition of a couple of new jumps and the finish being moved to a field further down the hill. The stage highlight is a drop into a steep descent with a big compression at the bottom. Every part of your brain is screaming “BRAKE!”, but to carry speed through the next section you need to keep it pinned.

When we got back to the campsite I noticed one pedal felt like it was working itself loose. Ison, the UK distributor for HT Components, were displaying in the race village so I popped in to see if there was anything they could do. They advised that the internals needed servicing but they didn’t have any spares with them. Since the pedals were in warranty, the guys kindly provided me with a new pair to ensure I could race. This was very much appreciated, and the kind of customer service that carries a lot of weight when looking at future purchases.

Race
Our race day started at 10.15, and despite the long climb which normally spreads the field, there was still a big queue for stage 1. I set off after Corkish, allowing him a decent gap but still close enough so I had someone to chase.

I was a bit too casual through the old quarry sections at the top, but something clicked and I remembered I was there to race and stepped it up a level. I put in a good shift along the flat section and passed three people, in addition to the one in the quarry, so I knew I was going alright. I was probably pushing a little too hard as I entered the trees at the end of the stage. I clattered through the rocks completely ragged with both feet bouncing off the pedals, much to the amusement of the crowd. I managed to recover and crossed the line feeling like I’d had a decent run (60th out of 230 in class).

Graham Robb

Photo: Graham Robb

I followed ‘Tesco’ Dave down stage 2 but couldn’t match his pace when we hit the exposed singletrack. Instead of risking a crash trying to keep up, I eased off and had a pretty unspectacular run, not making any mistakes but knowing I could have pushed much harder (61st).

Photo: Dave Price

Photo: Dave Price

We took our time on the next transition, allowing us all to regroup having split on the way up to 2. Once all together there was no chance we would be riding past the Red Lion without stopping to ‘refuel’. I enjoyed a sandwich to keep energy up, a bag of ready salted to prevent cramp, and a pint of Black Sheep to wash it down before readying myself for the long climb ahead.

FB_IMG_1503156277667.jpg

The Red Lion feed station. Photo: Russ Moore

Stage 3 is rode blind but was similar to last year, a narrow, rocky line meandering through a gully before a flat out wide track to finish. It’s not the most difficult of trails, but the amount of rocks littering the track can be quite intimidating, so it’s the sort of stage that rewards the brave, not one of my strong points.

I set off chasing down Pat, telling myself to commit to the trail, knowing I’m more than capable enough to ride it at speed. Unfortunately, there is a downside to being overly committed on a blind stage – I flew down a bank and ploughed full speed into a massive swampy puddle. BANG. I felt my front wheel smash into a big rock. By the time I’d made it through the puddle and up the bank on the other side, both wheels were losing air. The impact was significant enough to dent my front rim.

I was furious. A sliced tyre had ruined my event last year so I’d spent a chunk of money on two brand new tyres for Ard Rock but punctures had stole the show again. Luckily I had 2 spare tubes so could continue, but my race was over. I popped the tubes in and rushed to get some air in with my mini pump, knowing I just needed to get to the bottom where I’d be able to use a track pump to get the tyres to a more suitable pressure.

After getting going and riding one chute, I realised I was risking further punctures riding on low pressure, so I pulled in to pump up my tyres properly. At this point I knew my chances of finishing anywhere other than last were over, so I relaxed, took my time and had a chat with a marshal and some other people that were stopped with mechanicals. Two lads were having to call it a day so kindly offered me an inner tube each, providing me with reassurance that I had spares in case of another puncture.

I rolled into the bottom of the stage some 32 minutes after starting, amazed to see that Pat and Moore had waited for me, cheers boys.

Just as we set off, the heavens opened. I’d packed a jacket, but we were instantly soaked. The breeze seemed to be doing a good job of keeping the clouds moving and by the time we reached the top of stage 4 the showers had passed.

Stage 4 was another blind stage; in and out of a rocky gully a couple of times then onto a grassy hillside with a couple of switchbacks and back into the rocks to finish. I was sketchy at the top and ran off course at one point, probably suffering from being uptight after the frustration of 3. As the trail reached the grass section I went to get on the power but my chain had come off. I’m still not sure how this happened, I use a chain guide to stop the chain bouncing off the chainring, and the only time I’ve ever lost a chain before was in the Southern Enduro where I crashed and my chain guide had clogged with mud.

As I replaced my chain, I was passed by Pat, Moore and one other guy. I quickly caught the other guy but didn’t push to get past him, my race was over by this point, and I didn’t want to risk another puncture going off line. I eventually passed him on the 2nd switchback but as I rolled down the final chute I felt my rear tyre getting soft. I couldn’t believe I’d got another puncture, but at least it was right at the end of the stage (163rd).

The climb from the bottom of 4 was impressive, we crossed a river then climbed a rocky footpath that skirted round the outside of the hill. A million miles away from what I see on my Surrey Hills rides!

Stage 5 was a new addition this year. We watched a few set off and the trail appeared to be almost flat as it flowed through slag heaps before disappearing out of sight. I am usually pretty handy at these fast flowing stages, where I can use my power to my advantage, so I was keen to make amends for the previous two stages.

We had no idea how long the stage was, but I didn’t worry about saving energy, putting in hard cranks to get up to speed as soon as possible. The gradient soon took over as the trail dropped into a gully. I missed one opportunity to make up time, foolishly following the worn track round a hairpin when there was the option to blast straight through the middle, but apart from that I felt good and was carrying lots of speed.

Lower down the stage was lined with riders shouting encouragement as they made their way back up the hill. As the trail followed a narrow line through the heather, the shouts of “pedal” caused me to get a bit carried away. I pushed too hard and was sent flying when my front wheel ran wide and clipped the heather. Luckily I landed in one of the only soft spots on the Ard Rock (it is as ‘ard and rocky as the name suggests) so was unhurt but wasted a few seconds getting back on the bike. I reached the finish and collapsed in a heap – half exhausted, half winded (96th).

Sarah Barrett

Photo: Sarah Barrett

Stage 6 was my best stage last year, and as it was the end of the day, I know I could push without worrying about puncturing. I set off handy enough, but was caught out at one of the collapsed stone walls, where some large rocks had moved, making it far trickier than in practice. I hit both of the jumps fairly well and kept it tidy to the finish, where the rest of the lads were waiting with a beer (77th).

We watched a few riders come through before making our way back to the event village for the presentations and an evening of beer and live music.

END OF DAY

Much deserved end of day beers.

bAND

Friday Street

Ignoring the disastrous stages 3 and 4, I’d be on course to finish in the top 1/3, a result I would have would been delighted with. This is however, an irrelevant point as avoiding mechanicals and making it round the full loop is all part of the game.

It looks like I’ve still got unfinished business, so I’ll be doing my best to get an entry to tackle the Ard Rock beast for a third time.

Advertisements

Race Report – 2017 Transition Bikes Southern Enduro Round 2

On Sunday I rode the second round of the Southern Enduro Series at QECP. I entered the full Southern series in 2016 but this year, with the exception of the excellent Southern Championships in Exmoor back in April, QECP is the only Southern round.

Last year it felt like the race only scratched the surface of the potential at QECP, so I was looking forward to seeing what the organisers would add for this year. During my practice loop, I found that very little had been added to the trails, and if anything, some of the more fun and technical parts had been removed. This disappointed me. I am in no way in contention to compete at the top end of my class, so good trails are my main source of motivation. I finished practice feeling pretty uninspired.

On the plus side, the transition had been improved, bringing us straight up the hill rather than the fire road round the outside of the woodland used last year. The fast transition meant they could have easily extended the race to 6 stages and still kept the loop under 2 hours.

Those that read my last post may have picked up on the fact that I’m not a fan of riding in the mud. Call me a fair weather rider, but riding in slop, struggling for grip and being unable to carry speed isn’t what I find fun. So you can imagine my delight when the heavens opened about 10 minutes before my start time. The car was parked too far from the start for me to be able to grab my waterproof jacket, so by the time I reached stage 1 I was soaked through, and really regretting my choice of shorts and t-shirt.

Stage 1 started on one of last year’s trails, then using a fresh line to link to another older trail. It had one little mid-corner log drop and a root section which both went ok, but I was caught out on one corner that had the option to ride a tight line down the inside. I nailed the inside line in practise, but it was much slicker on my race run. The bike slid out from under me and sent me down the bank on my backside. The rest of the trail was featureless and my run forgettable (12th).

On the way back to the top of the hill I stopped off at the car to grab some clean gloves. I was already soaked and caked in mud, so it was too late to bother with a waterproof, but dry gloves can make a huge difference.

Stage 2 contained the only difficult riding of the day, one large root section, with a shorter but harder line to stay high on the bank and cut the corner, or an easier outside line. I rode the harder line in practice, but I knew this would be too risky in the rain so took the wide route. This line took me to the bottom of the bank and sapped all momentum, resulting in me having to push up the muddy climb that followed.

After the short climb we reached the one other good section; down a steep bank with several lines to choose from, crossing a fire road then dropping down another bank. I hit this pretty well and passed someone on the fire road. The track then flattens off as it reaches the foot of the hill, but instead of the stage finishing at the trail’s natural end, it continued for a flat pedal. Sections like this annoy me as I feel they’re only included to add the total race time, at the expense of rider enjoyment. I’d rather organisers concentrated their efforts on achieving the extra riding time with an additional stage rather than desperately adding length to what’s there.

Not long into the pedal I heard shouts coming from behind. They didn’t seem clear or close enough for someone to be trying to pass me, so instead of pulling in like I would if I’d been caught, I tried to look behind. Looking behind, on single track, at race pace is about as smart as using your tongue to see if it’s mud or dog muck on your shoe. Whilst looking behind I drifted off line, my front wheel clipped something, launching me over the bars and flipping my bike into the bushes.

It turns out the rider behind me had been caught, so the shouts were aimed at him. I let both riders through before recovering my bike. My chain had come off and got wedged underneath the chainring bolts. On another day, I’d have put the bike over my shoulder and ran to the finish, but I hadn’t felt like I was in ‘race mode’ all day. Instead I took my time sorting my chain and clearing the mud from the chain guide before cruising to the finish (28th).

 

For some reason stage 3 started lower down the hill from the others, even though we climbed to the clearing where the other trails started then rode down a trail to get to it. The stage started with some grass pedally sections and flat corners, before dropping into some cool switchbacks. I made a complete mess of the first switchback, getting a bit carried away infront of the photographers and ending up on the floor. Unfortunately for you readers, the photographic evidence of this has yet to surface (23rd).

At the top of stage 4 my glasses had completely steamed up, but I didn’t fancy riding a muddy trail with no eye protection. By this point I’d had enough and just wanted to get finished, so instead of sitting round waiting for my glasses to de-mist, I decided to set off trusting that they’d clear once I got moving, meaning riding super slow to start. Stage 4 was a forgettable trail and I escaped any drama stemming from riding unsighted (20th).

IMG-20170723-WA0013

I think the Southern Enduros have ran their course for me. They were a good introduction to enduro last year, but the trails don’t offer enough to keep me interested. For those looking for their first race, or people who are keen to pit themselves against the clock without having to commit the whole weekend travelling and practising, Southern Enduro is great. For me, £42.50 is simply too expensive for four straightforward stages. I don’t like to criticise those making the effort to run events and I appreciate they can only work with the terrain on offer, but if I’m paying to ride, I expect trails to be a step up from my standard Surrey Hills ride.

Another thing that frustrates me with Southern Enduro is how uneven the categories are. Only six riders contested the Elite class, whilst Seniors, Masters and Veterans classes contained sponsored riders, previous series winners and people that race at a national level. In these lower level, regional events, I think competitive racers need to step up to elite, allowing true ‘weekend warriors’ to thrash it out in the age categories.

Race Report – 2017 Pokerstars Manx 2 Day Enduro

Since the Manx MTB Enduro crew ran their first 2 day event in 2015, I have been keen to get home to ride the new trails and see what the hype is about. This year, with a stroke of luck, I was put in touch with a couple of lads who were able to fit my bike in their van, making travel a hell of a lot easier.

I arrived on Friday morning, keen to practice as many stages as possible. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a few uplifts from Mum, allowing me to ride 8 and a half of the 10 stages, missing out only stage 3 (‘Bluebell’ in Kerrowdhoo) and the top half of stage 9 (‘Riddler’ in Cringle) as they’re older trails that I already knew fairly well.

I’ve been riding primarily the sand based, mellow Surrey Hills in recent years, so the return to steep, muddy, rooty Manx trails was an eye opener, racking up 5 crashes in my afternoon of practice. Doing so much riding (and crashing) the day before an event probably isn’t advisable, but I was glad I’d seen the majority of the route prior to race day, even if the heavy rain due overnight would leave parts of if unrecognisable!

During practice, it became obvious that my semi slick Rock Razor wasn’t up to the job, and my dropper post was showing some adverse effects from having the lever unwittingly compressed during transit to the Island.

Day 1 was an afternoon start to accommodate people travelling over that day, which allowed me the time to pick up a grippier rear tyre from Bikestyle. A quick bleed of my dropper only made it worse, but it was getting too close to sign on to be thinking about sourcing replacement parts, so I would have to make do with a non-dropper seatpost for the weekend.

I was told I was setting off in group 22, with Craig and Wardy, and Charlie and Aaron a minute behind. Initially I was pretty happy with this, riding with my brother and mates, but as we watched the groups set off ahead, I realised we were going to be pretty close to the back, meaning potential traffic and lots of sets of wheels down wet trails ahead of us.

Stage 1 ‘Bear Knuckles’ took us down a relatively new trail in the very steep Slieau Whallian. A few muddy corners at the top were followed by a couple of tricky roll-ins before opening into a fast, open section. I made quite a few basic errors, but I was satisfied that I’d got down the hill in reasonable shape (37th place).

FB_IMG_1500621521283

Approaching a drop on Bear Knuckles. Photo: Russ Moore

After a long slog up Barnell, we dropped into Arrasey for stage 2. I enjoyed this stage in practice; some fresh turns at the top with plenty of line choice before joining a rutted old trail, dropping into the quarry and finishing with some worn in corners on the steep hillside. My race run was nowhere near as tidy as my practice, missing lines at the top and getting out of shape as I passed a rider in a heap on the muddy approach to the quarry (38th place).

Stage 3 was the only stage I’d completely neglected in practise, but I knew it mainly followed ‘Bluebell’, a trail I’ve done a few times before. I felt good on the top section, before getting a shock at the massive new roll-in onto the fire road – far steeper than I’d anticipated! Onto the old trail I got back into my rhythm. It was greasy but not muddy so it was possible to carry speed and slide into corners. My confidence was on the up before I came crashing down to earth, my front wheel sliding off the side of the trail exiting a corner, sending me flying. The hole in the bank on the inside suggested mine weren’t the only set of handlebars that had ended up on the floor there (34th place).

After a hike-a-bike up the slabs and a steady road climb to the Round Table, we filled water bottles whilst waiting for stage 4, ‘Root of all evil’. As the name suggests, the trail is littered with roots before a short climb linking to the trail centre style ‘Otter’s Pocket’. I rode some pretty conservative lines through the roots and carried decent speed on Otter’s for my only trouble free stage of the day (30th).

FB_IMG_1500621516669

Pumping Otter’s Pocket. Photo: Russ Moore

Another long transition along the road and across the farmland at Carnagrie we reached the summit of Slieau Whallian for an old enduro favourite ‘Bear Ass’. In practice, the top 1/3 was hard work, full of deep mud and slick rocks, but once we reached the steeper gradient the trail was much firmer and grippier, making it really good fun. By the time I reached it on race day, there was nothing firm or grippy remaining. I crashed three times and barely managed to get both feet on the pedals the whole way down, constantly dabbing to keep myself upright. On multiple occasions I had to stop to unclog my mudguard because the build-up of mud was preventing my wheel from turning. Despite all this, I still passed two people, showing I wasn’t the only one struggling (56th).

Comparing times with people who were further ahead on the road, stage 5 was running well over a minute slower by the time I got to it. I have no expectation of being in contention for podiums, so I never care too much about positions, but it would be nice to know we’re all riding the same trails. Stage 5 put a damper of my day, and knowing stage 10 would be even harder made me apprehensive about day 2. Fortunately, we were given a beer and a burger when we returned timing chips, so spirits weren’t down for too long!

Day 2 started with a climb up Barnell for two stages in Arrasey. Many people were complaining of tired legs, but my Saturday night beer and Chinese had worked it’s magic and my legs felt far fresher than on day 1. Stage 6 combined a trail filled with small jumps and drops with the best parts of the E2E descent, finishing with a steep roll in and some fun turns. I had a pretty tidy run, but could certainly have pushed harder in places. I clocked exactly the same time as Corkish, and a second faster than Pat, two riders I would normally aim to be a similar pace to but was miles behind on day 1, showing I was back on a better pace (29th).

We had planned to try and get past the group in front during the transition, but the rider after Craig came down with a large slice across his knee. He was keen to try and keep going but it was clear it needed stitches, so we convinced him to at least go to see the first aider to get it cleaned.

After a push back up through Arrasey we joined the queue for stage 7. This had loads of noticeably different sections that made it quite tricky to put a clean run in. It started with a steep drop into a bomb hole, then a fresh cut pedal into some tight trees with a rock drop that caught me out in practice, before joining a flat out old DH course then onto a muddy footpath, finishing with a difficult traverse across a loose slope. We didn’t see anyone making it across the final traverse incident free, so my two small crashes there didn’t harm me too much (32nd).

randr-photo-2230258-3500px

On the old Arrasey DH course. Photo: Doc Ward

We passed quite a few people on the transition up Glen Rushen and reached the start of stage 8 with no one there. Mum was near the top of the stage but I was keen to stay ahead of the traffic, so I didn’t stop for long. This was my favourite in practice, a flat out, bumpy start before joining the DH course with some fast bermed corners and a few jumps. Unfortunately rain and traffic had made it very greasy so it was nowhere near as good come race day. A couple of mistakes were to be expected, but mine came in bad places, one just before a hedge jump and another approaching a bank up to a fire road cost me time but I still felt like I’d had a reasonable run (31st).

Stage 9 was a long one; following the hedge alongside the top of the Whiskey Run to join the ‘Blue Dot’ XC trail then ‘The Riddler’ followed by a flat pedal next to the reservoir before going back into the trees to finish. I knew this trail reasonably well, and it’s mostly hard packed so I knew I could push harder than other stages, I just had to remember that I had no dropper so needed to save my legs for a sprint finish.

I’d linked the top section together quite well but paced myself on the pedal in the middle, so was quite surprised when I caught the rider in front. I kept it steady through the gullies, trying to pick smooth lines through some big roots.  I didn’t have the legs to go flat out for the whole pedal section but I felt good, posting my best stage of the weekend (19th).

FB_IMG_1500621498961

Dropping into a gully on Riddler. Photo: Callum Shaw Stafford

FB_IMG_1500621512894

Hopping over a stream. Photo: Chris Watson

After the mess of stage 5, I was keen to get to the top of stage 10 as soon as I could in order to ride it before it got too cut up. I passed a couple of people on the Whiskey Run climb, and about ten more on the road.

If stage 1 and 5 were tricky in practice, then stage 10 was another level of difficulty higher. Freshly built from top to bottom, the trail hadn’t seen much traffic so was still very soft and slippy. Some of the switchbacks on the steep hillside were as difficult as any turns I’ve ever come across. I was not alone in having to get off the bike to make it round the hardest of the corners during practice.

I set off cautiously, gradually picking up speed as I realised the trail was riding better than in practice. I got a completely out of shape on one corner, resulting in a small crash, but otherwise had as good a run as I could hope for on a trail that was well outside of my comfort zone (30th).

FB_IMG_1500621503092

Muddy and steep stage 10. Photo: Russ Moore

FB_IMG_1500621496255

Slieau Whallian jungle. Photo: Callum Shaw Stafford

As a whole I rode far better on day 2, posting 29th for the day. A big improvement on day 1’s 42nd, resulting in 35th overall. I think this improvement is the outcome of me feeling more confident on the terrain, and the trails being less affected by weather and traffic. A mid pack result is a fair reflection of my riding; I felt good at times but took far too long to get to grips with the conditions to warrant a better finish. The weekend highlighted riding off-camber and in mud need to be top of my list of things to work on.

The stages provided good mix of fresh cut, trail centre style, and worn in established trail. There were a few little climbs and pedally sections to keep us honest, but as a whole the stages were gravity fed and technical. The heavy overnight rain played its part, and stage 5 really was a victim of this, but I think it was otherwise the perfect balance of providing challenging trails which were still raceable.

Everyone was friendly out on the trails, and it was easy to ride around in a sociable group. The beer and burger at the end of each day added to the vibe, as everyone hung around, chatted about their day and cheered the later riders coming in.

Two days riding, an event t-shirt (proper technical jersey) and beer and burger at the end of each day for £50 makes the Manx 2 day one of the cheapest races out there. Even with my flights added on top it was better value than most UK events. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Race Report – 2016 Southern Enduro Round 3

Originally posted 27 July 2016 on the now defunct Together We Ride website.

Having been so happy with my result at round 2, I was disappointed to suffer a heavy crash last week, meaning I came into the third round of Southern Enduro at Queen Elizabeth Country Park nursing a sprained wrist.

My wrist was still painful, but since I’d already paid for my entry I decided I would head to the race regardless, knowing I could always help out as a marshal if the physio advised me not to ride. Upon arrival I made my way to see the brilliant Physio 1 to 1 Bike for an assessment. The guys gave me the OK to ride, and applied strapping tape around my thumb and wrist to provide it with extra support.

I got to ride three of the four stages in practice, but I was turned back at the top of stage four as practice had ended. I appreciate that I had missed the stage because I was running late, but I (and about 12 others) was annoyed that none of marshals we passed on the climb had told us we were wasting our time.

The three stages I practiced all offered something a little different but had a common theme, a killer pedal at finish. The stages were longer than previous rounds, and offered challenging and varied riding so I was looking forward to tackling them at race pace.

My race started in disastrous fashion as less than a minute into stage 1 I ran wide on a corner, leaving me in a heap with my bike tangled in the course tape. Within a few seconds of getting back on my bike I heard the dreaded shout of “RIDER”, notifying me that I’d been caught by someone who started 20 seconds behind me! I let him through and tried to match his pace but unfortunately the crash reminded me I was riding with an injury and I rode the rest of the stage with a complete lack of confidence and commitment. It was no surprise that I was down in 20th place, almost 40 seconds behind the fastest in my class.

After catching my breath at the end of the stage I realised that the crash had not hurt my wrist, so I decided that I had to put the injury to the back of my mind and enjoy the event.

After a long wait at the top, stage 2 got underway and I was soon getting stuck into the most difficult riding of the day with lots of tricky roots, a punchy mid-stage climb and some loose, steep corners. I made one mistake midway down but reacted quickly enough to prevent it costing me too much time. I was happy to reach the finish with the rider infront in sight, and of course having not been caught myself, posting a much improved 11th placed time.

Stage 1 before the crash - Photo: Dave Williams

Stage 1 before the crash – Photo: Dave Williams

Stage 3 was unusual in that it felt like it was made up of three completely different trails; it began by twisting awkwardly through dense trees before opening into a fun section with loose switchbacks then finishing in woodland on a mellow hill for a pedal to the finish. I really struggled in the tight section, reacting to each change in direction too late so my riding had no fluidity. I was looking forward to making up time once out of the trees but as I exited the first switchback, I realised I was soon to be caught. I immediately pulled over so not to hold someone up on a trail with few passing places. Letting the rider pass cost me a couple of seconds, but I still recorded 12th place.

Having missed out on practicing stage 4, I made sure to gain as much information as I could whilst I chatted to other riders as we queued to start. The general consensus was not to expect anything too difficult but to be prepared for an exhausting few minutes of twisting trail. It was a fun, fast stage that suited my riding but held a few frustrating sections where the course deviated from the existing trail. These deviations made it very difficult to ride blind, as the eye naturally follows the worn trail rather than the course tape. Despite overshooting the final corner, I managed to post my best result of the day (10th).

Considering I was unsure if I would even ride, I have to be pleased with finishing 14th in my class of 24. Prior to my injury I had aimed for a top 10 finish, which I missed by 26 seconds. As always, I can look back on avoidable mistakes and places where I could make time. It is this which makes me keen to continue racing, so I look forward to returning to full fitness and tackling my next event.

Race Report – 2016 Southern Enduro Round 2

Originally posted 14 June 2016 on the now defunct Together We Ride website.

Following my debut at Southern Enduro round 1, I was very excited for round 2 of the series. I’ve been riding much more regularly recently, so was confident that I would be fitter and sharper than the previous event.

The race was at Tidworth Freeride, a venue I’d heard many good reports about but had never got round to visiting myself. Unfortunately, all reports of how much fun the riding was came with a caveat that the chalk surface means it’s lethal in the wet. As you can imagine, I was far from happy when the rain started to fall as I drove down the M3, getting increasingly heavy as I neared Tidworth. Fortunately the thick tree cover combined with the dry weather of late meant that the rain simply settled the dust and didn’t have too much of an effect on grip levels.

Due to the small venue size the stages were quite short, so instead of a 4 stage race like round 1, the organisers opted to extend to 6 stages by running stages 1 and 2 twice.

Stage 1 kicked things off in lung busting fashion with a flat sprint straight out of the start gate. I took this section very easy on my practise run so I hadn’t appreciated how exhausting this would be. My naivety came to bite me in my race run as I attempted to go hell for leather, meaning my legs were destroyed by the time I reached the descent. The trail dipped into some tight trees before opening into a series of fun switchback turns then straightening out for a jump (shown in the video below) and a sprint to the finish. Despite almost blowing up on the flat at the start, I still posted a respectable 15th place.

Stage 1 Jump - Photo: Hi-Jinks Photography

Stage 1 Jump – Photo: Hi-Jinks Photography

Stage 2 provided riders with a few sections with multiple lines to choose from, so there was plenty to practise and remember. I practised the stage twice and felt very happy with it apart from one jump near the finish. The jump (shown in the video below) was very different to anything else I’ve rode, with a short, steep take off and a relatively long gap onto a table top. I watched a few people attempting it and none managed to land it smoothly so I decided that race day was not the time to try anything new. Slowing down and rolling over the jump undoubtedly cost me time but the rest of the stage went well and I posted my best result of the day (7th).

Stage 2 rock garden - Photo: BigMac Photography

Stage 2 rock garden – Photo: BigMac Photography

Stage 3 began with a tricky right hand corner on which I crashed in practise. The crash must have played on my mind, as when I sat on the start line I couldn’t remember anything on the course apart from that corner. The rest of the stage was fairly straight forward, with a series of flowing bermed corners then a slow rooty section, finishing with some pump track style jumps which required restraint in order to stay low and fast.

As a result of not remembering the stage I made some poor line choices and approached the rooty section too fast, meaning I was out of control where I needed to be smooth. The short length of the stage meant that each slip up would be costly which was evident in my 15th place finish.

Photo: Whitewood Media

Photo: Whitewood Media

Stage 4 was full of jumps, rocks and drops from top to bottom. Although in isolation none of the features would be too difficult, the relentless stream of obstacles made it difficult to put a good run together. I struggled with this stage in practise, running off the course on my first run and then hitting a stump and crashing on my second attempt. After such a poor practise I was very happy with my 14th placed race run, only a second outside the top 10.

Picking a line through the rocks in practise - Photo: Dave Williams

Picking a line through the rocks in practise – Photo: Dave Williams

Stage 5 was a re-run of the first stage. After setting off too hard last time round, I paced myself to ensure I saved enough energy to push through the corners. My time was a second slower than my first attempt but placed me 2 positions higher in 13th, suggesting that the track was getting slower and/or we were all tiring as the day went on.

Stage 6 gave me another go at stage 2, my best stage of the day. I was nowhere near as smooth this time, missing a line which meant I got dragged low on a rooty traverse. I also had a near miss on the final corner, where the levels of grip had diminished throughout the day and I very nearly slid off. Although I was slower than my first run, I still posted a satisfactory 10th place.

I finished the day in 13th position in a field of 30 riders. The brilliant Roots and Rain informs me that I beat 59% of the class compared to 42% at round 1, so there has been a definite improvement in my riding. There are some very good riders in front of me, but if I keep improving, a top 10 finish is a realistic aim for round 3.

Like the last round, the pits were well set up with a number of businesses providing their services. A special thank you to the guys at D&D Cycles who gave my bike a check over after it developed a rattle during practise.

The track builders managed to build a course that was challenging yet still accessible, providing a mix of everything; lung bursting sprints, jumps, drops, tight corners, fast corners, roots and rocks. Much of the course also looked to be freshly cut, which is no mean feat on a hillside already covered in established trails.

Race Report – 2016 Southern Enduro Round 1

Originally posted 18 April 2016 on the now defunct Together We Ride website.

This weekend I took part in the opening round of the Southern Enduro series in Milland, West Sussex, my first attempt at this type of event.

Enduro is a fairly new type of mountain bike racing, based loosely on a car rally format, where riders compete on a number of ‘stages’ with the combined time of all stages being their race time. Each event uses a slightly different variation of the format; the Southern Enduros are based on four different stages on which riders have 2.5 hours to practise in the morning, followed by racing in the afternoon.

Practice
The event started from race village and riders made their way across a field and up a steep track to reach the start of each stage. For my first ascent I rode the whole way up, but the entire climb was either very steep or covered in sticky mud, so I really felt the burn hitting my legs. I decided that for the rest of the day it would be smarter to push up to conserve energy for the timed stages. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea.

When I reached the summit there was already a little queue formed for stage 1, so I opted to head straight to stage 2. This was nice and flowy and certainly a good one to start with. I spotted a couple of alternative lines to save time on my race run, one staying high on a slippy off camber section and another providing a tight inside line on a long corner.

I made my way back up the hill chatting to a few other riders who were all happy to share their feedback from the stages they had practised. Stage 3 had caused a few people problems so I decided to leave that until last so I could take my time knowing I wouldn’t have to rush back up to fit another stage in.

Stage 1 was very muddy, and already deep ruts were being formed by the wheels passing through. Stage 4 was good fun, starting with a nice flowing traverse before dropping into some steep, off camber corners before flattening off and finishing with a long sprint across two fields to ensure riders finished the day with nothing left in their legs!

I reached stage 3 with over an hour of practise left so I was able to take some time to watch the different approaches riders took. The first 50m of the stage was the most intimidating section of the day; a steep corner, quickly followed by a corner in which riders dropped off a log then a short straight with a ‘road gap’ jump straight into a corner. I decided to take the second corner very tight, allowing me to sneak through a small gap in the log to give me a better run to the gap jump. This went to plan and I comfortably cleared the gap and carried speed through to the next section.

Race
Riders set off in numerical order, using a number based on their race category and their self-assessed speed and skill level. I was riding in Senior men’s, the 2nd class on course following the 11 rider ‘Pro’ class and I had rated myself at the slower end of the spectrum so was number 33, towards the back of the group.

Stage 1 was slow and steady. I avoided getting caught out on any of the slippy corners but I simply didn’t have the fitness to put in the multiple sprints required to carry speed through the mud. This was to be my worst stage of the day (16th place).

Stage 2 felt much better, I nailed the tight switchbacks near the top and I felt like I was riding smoothly. Lower down the stage, the lines I had practised were no longer quicker as the top soil had washed away to expose some slippy roots. I managed to stay steady to post my best time of the day (11th).

Dropping into Stage 2

Dropping into Stage 2

The technical features at the start of stage 3 were visible from the top of the stage, so watching the riders setting off ahead of me got my adrenaline levels up. I set off a bit too hard and nearly crashed in the first corner. This was compounded on the second corner as the tight inside line I had practiced didn’t go to plan. This mistake cost me momentum, meaning a few hard pedal strokes were needed to clear the road gap, resulting in yet another near miss in the following corner.


I was able to regain a little bit of rhythm before reaching a slow, technical section. I hit my first line really well but carried too much speed into the tight trees where I clipped my bars on both sides, bringing me to a complete stop. This meant entering a boggy section with no speed, requiring all of my energy to regain momentum, leaving me completely exhausted (15th).

I knew that I had lost time on stage 3, so I was determined to give my all to end the day on a high note with a good run on stage 4. I felt good through the top section but got a little loose on the off-camber corners which fortunately didn’t cost me too much time. I pushed hard to maintain a decent sprint across the fields and finished the stage feeling pleased with my performance (12th).

Overall I was satisfied with my result, finishing 15th out of 25 in my class which featured some very good riders. I had aimed to finish mid-pack, and my times on stage 2 and 4 show that I am capable of improving on that. My lack of training caught me out in stage 1, and a lack of composure resulted in avoidable mistakes costing me time on 3. I certainly have plenty to learn from and will have to work hard to ensure I improve my placing in round 2 in June.

The day was very efficiently run, with organisers managing to get over 200 riders through practise and race runs with minimal hold ups. The race village was excellent and there were physios, first aiders, bike shops, suspension gurus, burger van and even a local brewery providing services. The timing system was also brilliant, running wirelessly off a tag worn round the wrist meaning stages had a rolling start and finish.

The course was clearly the result of many hours of hard work. The stages were all great fun, and although the rain on the preceding days meant that most of the course was either slow or slippy, they were a good test of both skill and fitness without ever being beyond the capabilities of us ‘weekend warrior’ riders.

Parish Walk 2013

Following successfully completing the 2012 Parish Walk, I decided early on that I wanted to enter again in order to improve my time. Upon returning to the Island early April I set about training and started getting a few short walks under my belt. I also did a few sessions with Alan Callow on the access road to try and improve my walking style to get away from my heavy footed stomp that created problems with my ankles last year. Whilst I lack the range of movement to ever become a race walker, Alan was happy with the progress I was making and definitely helped me feel smoother and more efficient in my walking.

Learning from 2012’s last minute footwear dilemma, I’d bought some new trainers early on, opting for a pair of lightweight running shoes, as I felt last year’s pair were a bit too clumpy.
Training was fairly consistent, clocking up over 220 miles between early April and mid June, and with the encouragement of Corkish and Daymo, I even managed a couple of 20+ mile walks, something I neglected last year. The new trainers and work I’d done with Alan had certainly helped my speed, as I was regularly improving on my personal bests in training.

I was feeling confident of finishing again and had set myself a target of walking sub 19 hours (2012 time 20hrs 26). My plan was to aim for 13 minute miles, which provided a safety net of over half an hour to allow for stoppages or slow patches and still make it to the War Memorial in under 19 hours. Perry had lent me his Garmin GPS watch which would help me keep an eye on my pacing and stop me getting carried away and burning myself out too early.

On the day, Mum dropped me to the NSC about twenty minutes before the race was due to start and a large crowd was already developing on the running track. Corkish and Daymo had got down early and were fairly close to the front, so I worked through to crowd to start with them. We got underway and walked with a few other mates through to Braddan Church, where Corkish and me were given the opportunity to get upto pace and make up for the slow first mile. Daymo sensibly resisted pushing too hard early on and hung back.
We made up a few places and before long we were clear of the majority of the crowd and were surrounded by people walking in a similar pace. Just before reaching the Scarffe’s house, the sun had come out and I was wanting to swap my wooly hat for a peaked cap. Fortunately mum was on the ball and had one ready for me; a bright pink number so she could spot me in the crowd!
braaid

Having been joined earlier by Neil Cowley; Rich Curphey also caught up with us at Stugadhoo, having pushed hard from the back of the field to catch me. The 13 minute pace seemed to suit all four of us fairly well and we clocked into Santon in 2:17:10, just inside the top 100 places.
Santon through to Arbory seemed to pass fairly quickly and we kept to our pace without too many changes in position. I picked up the pace coming into Colby to get a gap from the lads so I had time to stop and get my food from mum and dad. I grabbed a ham and tomato sandwich, a bag of Snack a Jacks, a Frube and a rehydration drink whilst mum pinned my number back onto my bib as it looked ready to blow away. I re-joined the lads to clock into Rushen together in 4:03:36 (78th).
colby
Neil stopped for some food and Curph slowed up on the steep climb at Ballakilowey. Whilst the climb had caused our paced to drop off the 13 minute speed, Corkish and I were still quicker than the majority of other walkers on the climb and passed quite a few people between there and the top of the Sloc.
ballakillowey
sloc

By the time we reached the round table we were up with some quick walkers who then pulled away from us near Eairy Cushlin. At one point I found that Corkish had dropped quite a bit behind, once he caught me he pointed out I had increased my pace to keep up with those infront. This happened to be shortly after the GPS watch ran out of battery so was the first time I’d been walking without keeping an eye on my pace, so I realised I needed to be careful not to let this happen again. We stayed in pretty much the same position to Patrick before picking off a couple more people on the way to checking in at Peel in 6:57:23 (64th), a minute behind last year’s time, but 4 minutes ahead of schedule.
peel

Corkish needed to stop off in Peel so I pushed on alone, catching a few people on the climb before getting onto the coast road where I settled into a steady pace. When it started raining around Devil’s Elbow everyone around me started putting on waterproofs but I decided to stick with my shorts and t shirt, which proved to be the correct decision as the shower soon passed and the sun came out again. Before getting to Michael I had a visit from Brew, then Mum and Dad who handed me a rice pudding and a Powerade, and shortly after they left I was joined by Wade and Dee. After seeing a few people, and knowing all the boys would be at The Mitre I got a bit of a lift and picked up the pace through the little hills on the approach to Michael. I checked in at Michael in 8hrs 19 (44th), five minutes ahead of schedule. This would turn out to be the peak in my day, as shortly after leaving the village I started to feel like I was overheating and was getting light headed. By the time I reached Bishop’s Court I was sweating heavily and starting to feel low on energy. I managed to eat the sandwich I was carrying but this only made me feel worse. When Mum and Dad caught up with me just before Ballaugh I had been sick a couple of times and was feeling achy and irritable. I threw my bum bag into the car, thinking it was too heavy, and told them not to go past the church because I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to continue.
I made it to Ballaugh in 8 hr 48 (42nd), with the short stretch from Michael being the first time I’d really fallen from my 13 minute mile pace. I decided not to hang around at the church to resist the temptation of packing in, so walked about half a mile down the road before stopping for a break, where I leant on a gate to catch my breath and have a stretch. I tried to get going again but my feet, hamstrings, groin and lower back were all causing me lots of pain and I was still being sick quite regularly. Next time I seen my support car I stopped and sat in the boot, and decided to see if changing trainers would help. I put on some fresh socks and the shoes I wore for the Parish last year, I also grabbed a rehydration drink to try and settle my stomach. Getting moving again was tough and I was getting passed regularly but I was in no state to be worrying about time or position, I just had to keep my head down and do my best to get through the rough patch. The change of shoes made my feet worse to start with, with the movement in pressure points irritating the blisters, but they soon settled and I was glad of the change. I reached Jurby in 9 hrs 52 (48th), now 5 minutes behind schedule but was starting to feel much stronger and I had stopped being sick. I stopped off at the car again after leaving the church lane, I was no longer worried about sticking to my time plan and was just going to do everything I could to make sure I reached the finish, so I put on a clean t shirt and a coat and grabbed a cup of tea and some food.
The 7.5 miles to Bride seemed to pass by fairly effortlessly, I was now keeping the same pace as those around me and feeling like the rough patch was well and truly behind me. Word got to me that Corkish and Daymo had both packed in at Jurby, so I now had support from Chris Ward’s full car and Craig and Gaz, as well as Ste, Lynne, Harry and Darcy and a visit from Corkish and Daymo on their way home. I was feeling good and had re-passed those that overtook me when I stopped after Jurby and was starting to close in on people infront. After clocking in at Bride in 48th position, I got even closer on the little hill on the exit of the village and passed four people in quick succession, and two more further up the road.
wet
bride

 
Last year, the lane to Andreas church caused me great discomfort and made several blisters pop, so I opted to slow down and try and walk on the smoothest line I could find, which was mostly on the grass at the side. I felt like I was back walking at a decent pace (12:45 average Bride-Andreas).
andreas

andreas2

I reached Sulby, having breezed through the section that I found most difficult last year, and swung by the Ginger for a quick beer with Will and Glyn and started the approach to Lezayre, with it being noticeably lighter than last year, the first time I’d realised I was making a good improvement. This prompted me to ask Dad how I was getting on compared to my plan and was pleasantly surprised to find I was just 15 minutes off my target, and well inside 19hour pace.
As I approached Lezayre, Harry gave me some stick, reminding of when I missed the turning and went the wrong way last year. Fortunately I remembered where the course went and I raced Harry and Darcy up the hill to the church where I clocked in at 13 hrs 31 in 40th position (and 3rd in my race with the Cain kids!).
1003669_10201238447504516_552335661_n
Passing through Lezayre feels like the start of the homeward stretch and I was still feeling strong; continuing to catch people on the road and was still able to eat and drink regularly.

ramsey
I caught Corris just before turning down the hill to Maughold, in the same place as he passed me last year. He looked like he was struggling but I knew he’d finish, although I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him again. Corris informed me we were inside the top 40, the first time I had been aware of my position since Ballasalla, this encouraged me to keep on pushing hard. Although I was starting to feel exhausted and sore, I was still maintaining a good pace. I took a couple of painkillers before checking in at Maughold church in 14 hrs 43 (36th).

As I hadn’t really spoke to anyone for a while, I asked Craig to walk with me for a bit before I tackled the long climb back to the main road. This section is notoriously difficult but it seemed to fly past without problem last year. However, I was more alert this time round and it seemed to drag on forever, every time I thought I was getting close to the top it rounded a corner and continued as far as I could see.
I eventually made it to the main road after about 1 hr 15 of climbing and soon caught another walker and was advised the next person was about 3 minutes ahead. Soon after, Mum pulled up and told me that Corris was closing in on me again. I knew he was strong in the final 10 miles last year , where he made 15 minutes on me, so I was determined to hold him off as long as possible. Climbing out from the Dhoon, Sian and Niall pulled up with a message from Corris, he was coming to catch me! This forced me to pick up my speed and all of a sudden the walker in front came into view, I had made up the 3 minutes within a couple of miles. It was clear I was going much quicker than those in front and my support had picked up on this, giving me regular updates on what was going on ahead. The difference to the guy in the front was getting shorter every time I seen my support, and by the time I crossed the tram lines in Laxey it was down to under a minute, I gritted my teeth to make up the place before reaching Lonan church. I pushed on the climb and passed him as we turned off the main road, where I also seen the next person on the road looking very quick making her way back from the church gates.
I clocked in at 17 hrs 24 (33rd) and was thinking this may be my final position as the girl ahead had a good gap and was still walking well. Instead, my concentration was back onto finishing inside the 19 hour mark. I had failed to account for a drop in pace in Maughold, so knew I would be well off my 13 minute mile pace but wasn’t too sure where I was in terms of finishing sub 19. I was pushing hard and really enjoying myself, even smiling! A stark contrast to my mood 80 miles in last year.

As I reached the top of the climb to Baldrine I noticed quite a few cars pulled in, the lads advised me that I had almost caught the girl ahead. I walked behind her through Baldrine before passing and pulling away before the Liverpool Arms. Towards the end of the straight Ste told me the walkers ahead were through the Whitebridge but weren’t looking good. This was the motivation I needed for a final push and clocked into Onchan church in 18 hrs 16 (32nd) after walking 12min20 miles from Lonan. I was surprised when I didn’t see anyone ahead of me where the course doubles back on itself at Church Road but I was still certain I’d be able to catch them if they were struggling. I didn’t catch sight of anyone through Royal Avenue, and when I got onto the Prom mum told me that they were too far ahead to catch. I still felt like I had plenty of energy so managed to walk my quickest leg of the day (11.58 min miles), crossing the line in 18:42:26.
Moore had a beer open ready for me which I tucked into whilst I got some photos with everyone who had been out supporting and come to watch me finish. We hung round to watch Corris come in one place behind before heading home for a much needed lie down!

finish 2
1044982_10201238492025629_438268099_n

with corris
presentation

In reflection, having a set pace to aim for worked well for me. It was a sensible way to stay in control early on, and encouraged me to keep pushing once the dark of the night set in and most people start to slow. However I would have to make allowances for Ballakilowey and the climb out of Maughold where it is unrealistic to expect to walk at the same pace as flatter parts of the course.
A big thank you has to go to everyone that came out and supported me throughout the event, especially Harry and Darcy who were out in the car until 3am and Mum and Dad who did all my food and made sure I didn’t quit when I went through the rough patch. Also a big thanks to Daymo and Corkish for dragging me out training regularly and Allan Callow for his work which massively helped improve my speed.
Next year? Probably not. I doubt I can improve my time by much, and without a target to aim for I can’t see me putting the necessary training hours in. However, there has been talk of Dad and Craig going for a finish next year, and there’s not a chance I’d let them do it without me!