In a rather fine example of my superior prior planning skills the Sunday morning after my hilly Exmoor race saw me leaving the house at 6am for a nearly 3hr drive to the hills of Wales for my first mountain bike race! This was to be round 4 of the Welsh Gravity Enduro series at Affan forest parks’ Glyncorrwg mountain bike centre. Now I’m not going to lie I was pretty damn nervous about the whole thing, with no real idea what to expect having never even been to watch a mountain bike race and being pretty new to the sport overall. However one of the things I love most about mountain biking is the down to earth, friendly, outgoing people it attracts.Bringing all these people together in a shared love of the slightly crazy sport of hurtling down a muddy, rooty, rock covered, big hill as fast as possible sounded like it could make for a pretty awesome day out. So off I went…….
Mountain biking as a sport I find, is fantastically welcoming to newcomers with almost everyone you meet being more than happy to include you in their group. Before I had even finished getting my kit on at the car I had befriended my parking neighbour and bumped into a fellow rider from the Manon Carpenter group ride at Forest of Dean last month. I ended up heading up the hill with them for a practice run of the trickiest section of the day, something I would have been clueless about otherwise. We bumped into some more of their friends and it was this bunch I tagged along with for the rest of the day. All just coincidental, unplanned events but I’m sure it made my day so much more fun having a group of like-minded girls to share the highs and lows with.
The event itself is part of a ‘mash up’ format series designed to give newcomers a fun, informal introduction to enduro racing. There are 3 different timed sections and you can ride each one as many times as you like between 10.30 and 15.30 with no time limits on when you start each stage. Here’s a brief description of the runs for bikey people;
Track 1 (Bike Park) – One of the downhill runs from the bike park with a bit of a pedally skirt around the edge section tagged on just to give the lungs and legs a workout. It rode fast with some nice berms to rail around and lips to hop off. Despite the short distance it was still a lungbuster of a run with a mean uphill dash to finish.
Track 2 (Zig Zag) – The final descent of the popular YWal cross country trail. A man made rocky singletrack trail as the name suggests zig zagging its way down the valley. The first section tested your ability to keep the flow as it went a little bit up and down, the middle section was a tough flat traverse back across the hillside where the only tactic was to pedal like mad. The end made up for it with a long, fast rocky descent testing your nerve of how fast and loose you dared to go.
Track 3 (373) – I believe they had made this track from a collection of others with a few additional bits added on for the day. The most technical track of the day that saw a few spectacular crashes. A mix of terrains from established smooth single-track, a nice muddy steep gulley into a slippy muddy rooty section, fire road with bus stops, some more windy mud pits before finishing on the 4X track. The main element was slippy mud!
For more info on Welsh gravity enduro events head to their website.
I enjoyed the ‘Mash up’ aspect of this race as the live timing during the day meant we were able to run back to the cafe and check our times compared to others. By doing this you could see which tracks you needed to improve on. There was a very kind marshal at the bottom of track 3 helping us out by showing us on her phone. (Anyone could do this on their smartphone it’s just none of us had worked out how!)
It would seem these kind on tracks rode to my advantage as incredibly at the end of the day it turned out I had won my category! I was very surprised but super pleased. It made for a perfect end to an immensely fun day. The podium was a slightly awkward experience but I am well chuffed with the handlebars I won.
I never thought that bike racing would be for me, I get too nervous and give myself a hard time and was sure everyone else would leave me for dust. This turned out to be all wrong, at the start of the first timed run I was nervous but after that I was just having to much fun to worry about it. There is none of the tense, seriousness you expect. Everyone was just out to have fun on their bikes and do the best they can. I really enjoyed the feeling of riding as hard as I could, right on the edge of control, where a millimeter or split second too late reaction is all there is between success and crashing. The adrenaline rush I get from that, to me, is what makes mountain biking the best sport there is for Ultimate Fun!