The weekend of the 20-21st May saw my team mate Laura Griffiths and I trucking the 6 hours up to the village of Machynlleth, Mid Wales, for the Welsh Open run by Welsh Gravity enduro. This was to be a race unlike any other I had taken part in with 45km of pedalling and 1800 metres of climbing on both practice and race day. As an EWS qualifier we knew this race was going to be a big leap up from our usual local races. Excitement levels were high! (heightened by a healthy dose of fear!)
Practice day dawned to grey skies and miserable drizzle interspersed with even more delightful torrential showers. Luckily this was just the first of our little moral tests and by late morning the skies had cleared and we were soon moaning about being too hot instead! A brisk climb up into the surrounding hills soon had us out of the trees and winding our way across open moorland to the start of stage 1. You couldn’t help but feel excited as you took in the incredible views down over the town and out across the mountains. They really were something special and were to be a welcome sight putting a smile back on tired faces over the weekend.
Stages 1 and 5 both began by picking their way over grassy moorland with several testing punchy climbs before entering woodland for a bit of winding between trees on fresh cut tracks. Stage 1 had a sharp drop down a bank into a really tight right hander that caught most everyone out in practice. 5 had a few steeper sections that were mainly tricky due to their blind awkward entries and the fact it came at the end of the day when you were already so tired. Stage 2 was simply a slop fest. Staying upright as you slid down gullies was a challenge to say the least but a good test of balance and nerve not to grab the brakes as this would just instantly flatten you. Stage 3 mainly involved roots, winding around roots, off camber roots, steep sections with roots, then some more roots. From this I learnt, I must learn to ride roots better! Stage 4 was the Climach trail descent. An awesome bike park style fast rocky trail with kickers and berms galore. After the technicality of 2 and 3 it felt so good just to get of the brakes and blast your way down, every corner caught you just perfect. It was impossible not to get to the bottom of that grinning from ear to ear. The transitions however were brutal. It took well over an hour to get from 1 – 2 and about the same from 4-5 as they were in different valleys. By the time I got to the top of stage 2 I felt as if I had already completed my average length ride! I almost felt like this was more mentally testing on practice day because you didn’t know where the top was, so it just felt like it was going on forever. Living in Devon we obviously dont have mountains so you’re simply not used to sustained climbing for that amount of time. I found it a real shock to the system and had many low moments where I simply felt like there was no way I could do this all again on race day. However, there is nothing I hate more than to be defeated so feeling rather shell shocked at the sheer magnitude of the challenge we retreated to our luxury camping accommodation, ate a small mountain of pasta, sausage, veg and cheesecake and hit the sack for an early night.
Race day dawned to beautiful clear blue skies and we were soon off for a nice steady climb to stage 1. The transition times were looking tight so we were happy to hear they were doing away with penalties, you only had to try and stay within your category. It turned out even this was pretty difficult! I felt that my race runs on a whole went well.There were a good few near misses on the tricky stages 2 and 3, which thankfully had dried out in comparison to practice, but I managed to stay upright all day.
I think all my gym efforts over the winter were paying off here, as despite being knackered I still had the upper body strength to haul the bike into line and throw myself back into place after several times ending up lying on the handlebars. However my endurance was severely lacking. I have most definitely not been spending anywhere near enough time on the bike doing long steady days to be fit enough for such a distance as this was. I also struggled with the sprint efforts but to be fair I think everybody did, there was at least one cheeky little lung burning uphill sprint in every run. Damn them they were painful!
What shocked me most was that leading up to the event my greatest concern had been how steep and technical I expected the stages to be, when in fact that wasn’t the difficult part at all. The stages were more difficult in comparison to the local events I’m used to but this was mostly because they were so long and they had a bit of everything in every run with no easy sections in between to recompose yourself. They left very little room for error and demanded full concentration. On its own this wouldn’t be a problem. What made it such a challenge was the combined elements of the distance between stages and the tight times.This meant as soon as you got to the top you literally had time for only a quick sip of your drink, switch your bike into descent, crank through the gears and you’re off. Snacking had to be done on the go, tricky when you’re struggling to breathe!
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint, no matter how hard I found it at the time, how deep I sank into the hurt locker climbing to stage 5 that final time, how much I cursed my stupid tired brains crap line choices, or how much it’s taking my days to recover. The feeling of pride I have now from completing what I felt like was the most difficult physical test I have ever taken on, more even than the marathon is immense. What I love most about racing is how much it teaches you by pushing you to the limits of your fitness, skill and bravery. From this I will learn and improve.
At the end of the weekend I came away with a 3rd out of 6 in my category. I am very happy with this. The Rallon as usual was a total weapon and saved my sorry tired ass an immeasurable amount of times.
Next challenge – Okeford bike park Southern Enduro.