A better title for this weekend’s race, the first round of the Southern Enduro series on the 11th June, would have been Downduro. A name cleverly thought up by a guy (who I’m trying to track down to give credit too) we were chatting to on the push up. Okeford Hill, it would seem, is certainly more of a natural, steep and sketchy downhill kind of venue than you would normally expect from a bike park hosting an Enduro competition. Think of how many rocks there are at Bike Park Wales, Okeford has that many roots with a nice bit of slippy clay in between, then imagine this with a good bit of rain overnight. It’s safe to say staying upright was a tad challenging!
Nevertheless with 238 competitors taking part, an impressive 16 of which were girls (yeeeaaa!!!) it was a popular venue. Despite the general theme of conversation on the day being how hard the tracks were, nobody was complaining. It was good to have a change from the pedalling fitness challenge and test your skill on the bike instead, even if this did mean pretty much everyone was crashing!
The schedule for the weekend had open practice on Saturday with the uplift running and 4/5 runs open and taped. The event started properly on Sunday with practice from 9.30-11.30 and the girls kicking off the race runs at 11.45. There were 5 stages using the same track for 1 and 5. The transition was the fireroad the uplift takes up which was short and quick but fairly steep so most everyone pushed. The transition from 3 was an evil rough and steep bridleway, I didn’t see anyone riding that, walking it was bad enough. It ran next to the track though so watching riders pass was a welcome distraction.
The tracks themselves were varying levels and versions of steep, slippy and tricky. Track 1 actually began with a nice flowy bike park style set of berms and table tops, a pedal along a narrow strip between the trees before dropping down into the woods where line choice was key. Track 2 was newly built I believe as it was the only one no one could practice the day before. Natural and loose the main features catching everyone out were a nasty little climb up off the fireroad that had even the fastest ladies jumping off and running. Track 2 had one of the hardest corners where you had to turn 180 degrees around a tree crossing all its exposed routes. Track 3 was the one most people were worried about. It had the steepest sections and as it was deeper in the forest it took a lot longer to dry out. It was certainly a case of pointing your bike down the hill, getting off the brakes and hoping the corner at the bottom caught you. The end of the run was a long freshly dug fairly flat off camber section with a few little wiggles thrown in to ensure you slipped down off your intended high line. Track 4 was the wettest of them all, it had a layer of loose mud on top that I really couldn’t get to grips with. There was another awkward tree to get round but this time you had to come up and round it. Speed was key, like many others it defeated me and tactical running was employed!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make practice the day before so was rather daunted to turn up for practice in the morning and find everyone who’d already had a go telling me how hard it was. Even riders I knew are better than me most worryingly! I managed to bumble my way around most of the stages but Track 4 really had me worried as I hate to admit defeat and push but it was just so slippy. Track 3 I could ride but I felt frustratingly slow picking my way round the tricky bits, there was a lot of foot out scooting involved.
Come race time I managed to give myself a bit of a kick up the arse, the adrenaline and your competitive nature have an incredible way of bashing the fear out the way. I was super annoyed when I made it round the tricky tree on stage 2 only to stupidly loose the front wheel and topple over riding out of it on the flat bit. A case of celebrating too early and letting concentration slip I think. Like at BPW I had built the stage I was worried about up in my head and a time costly stupid error early on had me riding far too cautiously. I had got it into my head that I couldn’t ride this one so, of course this meant I couldn’t because I was riding stupidly hesitantly and doubting myself. In reality I could, it wasn’t any harder than the others but it just shows how much of your performance is dictated by how your thinking and feeling not your actual skill level. To ride well you have to trust in yourself and the bike, concentrate on what you have to actually do and attack the trail, easier said than done!
We had a fair wait before Stage 5 due to an accident on the track so our times were uploaded while we waited. Alicia Hockin and I noticed our times were fairly close, usually she beats me but this time I was around 20 seconds ahead, a safe distance, unless I crashed. Some friendly rivalry ensued with her making sure she reminded me just before we started, “only 20 seconds Becky!” I knew she’d be really going for it but all I had to do was not do anything stupid. I managed to stay upright but was definitely a little more careful than I would have been had I not known the results.
It was hugely uplifting for women in mountain biking to see so many ladies out competing. There was a great diversity on show in age, ability and attitude but everyone was really friendly and supportive of each other. Full credit to the older yet new to racing ladies who despite being less confident still came out, gave it a go and made it round one way or the other. It was unanimously voted by us all the most difficult set of tracks any of us had raced. I am new to Southern Enduro but those who had raced last season said this was easily the hardest they’d seen. As I said before this is no bad thing. The idea of racing is to push and challenge yourself and that this certainly did, for all of us, even the guys.
Southern Enduro once again did a fantastic job running a slick, problem free operation. There was great variety in the tracks, they were all well marked and everyone was friendly and helpful. They did particularly well getting racing back underway promptly after the accident and keeping everyone informed what was happening. Healing vibes to the poor injured guy.
At the end of the day I came 4th in my category, senior women. Not going to lie I was a little disappointed when the junior category was merged with ours and Ellen slipped into 3rd knocking me off the podium. However, as she was the sole junior I can completely understand why they made this decision. It must be hard enough to get sponsors without irking them by giving out prizes to categories with only 1 in. I just need to go faster next time! Out of the women overall I was 5/15, happy with that.
Due to now unexpectedly having the opportunity to move to Wales I unfortunately won’t be racing the rest of the Southern Enduro series, pennies must be saved for house buying. I hope to be sorted enough to get back on it for the Welsh Gravity Enduro mash up series starting in September. I’m looking forward to the Welsh hills improving my fitness and the general gnarlyness of their trail building helping me to keep on improving.
Onwards and Upwards.