This was one event I will never forget! I am writing this 24 hours post race and I am only now just coming down off the 'high' from it. It was one of those races that will stick with both riders and supporters for a very long time as from start to finish, the atmosphere was just unreal. Both the race village and the hill was buzzing with happy faces, who just wanted everyone to do well. You couldn't help but smile all weekend long!
Preparation and training for this started just over six months ago in November, when I started on my winter training programme with Chris Kilmurray at Point1AthleticDevelopment. My goal was clear, to break into the top 20 and to finish in one piece with clean runs. A progression from 23rd position at last years round in Ireland where I suffered a pneumothorax from a crash on stage 5, I was determined to achieve this goal and set myself a target to stick to the training programme as well as clean up my diet. I was well aware of how a poor diet can have such an impact on training, energy levels and immunity, that I had no choice but commit to cutting out junk and basically feed my body with good, nutritious and unprocessed food. That was the hard part and one I still struggle with!!
The race was set in Glenealy Village, just off the N11 in County Wicklow. The hill where the race was taking place was Carrick Mountain, small but mighty! The race format was simple but tough, seven stages over 50km with an elevation of roughly 1000m of climbing. We had two days of practice before racing all seven stages on Sunday. The toughest part of Sunday was making it to your stage on time as time penalties were given to late riders. There was no time for hanging around, and in the midday heat, it was tough going.
With the weather turning out amazing, hitting us with Irelands first heatwave since what felt like the 80's, I decided that setting myself up in the van on the Thursday evening was only proper order, even though I live only 40 minutes drive away from the venue. This is the part that I absolutely love about racing! Camping out in my racevan, with like minded people and really getting the chance to soak up the whole atmosphere from start to finish. Waking up each morning to the sound of the birds chirping and stepping barefoot onto the dewy grass to do my morning stretches while looking at the beautiful Carrick mountain in all its fine glory, was just unbeatable. My stretching routine was followed each morning with a cup of coffee, whilst sitting out in the morning sun. Its a nice time of the day to completely relax and just chat to whoever is around and talk 'bike' and about the day we had ahead of us. However, you just couldn't not be excited and nervous at the same time, even with the relaxed vibe in the campsite.
Friday was the first day of practice where riders could practice stages 1-4 which was just over 26km of riding and 960m of elevation. It was pretty exhausting in the heat as us Irish (especially the ginger type) are not used to. Give us damp, wet weather and we feel alive! Anything over 20 degrees and we just can't cope! After the guys at Vitus giving my SommetPRO the once over, I hooked up with Bex Baraona and a few of the lads to set off for the day.
With an early night Friday, I was up at 7am on Saturday to get my food prepared for the day and with the plan of hitting the hill as soon as it opened at 10am. With my mate Aine McKenna coming to the rescue with nice new Fiveten shoes for me, as I had cracked the sole in my own shoes, I was on the hill nice and early and set off into the morning sunshine with Welsh boys Charles 'AIRSHOT' Jones : ) and Graham Sheldon for some shredding of stages 5 and 6.
After a run on stages 5 and 6, I decided to head back to the race village and hang out with the Gravity BC lads who were busy chilling in the field having lunch. We headed up to stage 7 in the afternoon, taking out time and being pretty relaxed, saving our energy for the big day on Sunday. It was an entertaining climb up to stage 7 as the lads had managed to pick up some crazy American guy who kept us laughing the whole way up. When we finally got to 7, the stages had been closed so we decided to take a track walk, like everybody else......
With a good clean run of stage 7, I was happy enough with how the day went and headed back to the van to start the dinner, enough for the next day, wash the bike, and get my race kit ready. It was 10pm by the time I had finished and finally got to bed.
Sunday - Race Day
So it had finally arrived, race day. I spent the morning following the same routine as I had every other morning with my stretching and movement techniques I had learned on the workshop I did recently with pro cyclist Sven Tuft and ultra marathon trail runner Barry Murray, while trying to ignore the race jitters in my stomach while I prepared my coffee and breakfast. I wished my fellow riders good luck as they headed off one by one to the race village as I wasn't off until 11:05. Not before long, it was time and I was on the stage being interviewed in front of a crowd of supporters as they cheered us all off one by one as we rolled off the start ramp and on up the hill. I was so eager to get going so this was such a relief to get spinning up that hill.
Stages 1-4 went well, I felt so much stronger and fitter than I did this time last year and I knew that my hard work over the last few months had definitely paid off, even just by making the climbs a lot easier. I was spinning up the hills without too much effort and was feeling great. My best stage of these was Stages 2 and 3 where I came 13th and 10th consecutively. Unfortunately with a really stupid crash on stage 4, I was put back to 17th position on that stage. Back to the race village for a quick 10 minute lunch stop and we were back up the hill again to tackle stages 5, 6 and 7. Not only were the supporters amazing when we were pinning it down the stages, but they were just as encouraging and vocal as we pedalled up the hill to the stage start! They really are the best supporters in the world! These were the stages that I was really looking forward to, stage 6, the downhill track especially. As I pedalled up to stage 5, one of the lads told me that stage 6 would be the best stage il ever have ridden and Paul Caldwell, you were right, it was SAVAGE!! I hit my lines perfectly, was loose, and really felt pinned. The cheering from the supporters was just amazing and they really made a difference to this run as I could feel the energy from them. It was a run that I will never forget.
So, the result? After riding for 5 hours over 50km, with 7 stages of pure flat out shredding, putting every ounce of power I had into every pedal stroke and keeping the head clear and focused, I found myself sitting in the 'Hot Seat' when I returned to the crowds at the race village. Rider after rider came through, and I was still sitting there! I couldn't believe it, my goal of top 20 as definitely a reality at this point and I was in disbelief really. I knew by lunchtime that I was doing well coming in 2nd out of 12 riders so on my way up to Stage 5 I was trying to do the maths, and work out where I would come if I was to keep up this momentum. My time in the 'Hot Seat' came to an end when UK pinner, Bex Baraona came through, I was just keeping it warm for her I said : ) After Tracy Moseley came through the finish, the results were in and it was a real moment of disbelief when I learned that I had finished in 11th position with an overall time of 33:28, just 30 seconds off a top 10. To say I was 'stoked' was an understatement! I was even more in shock when I read through the stage times and saw that I had managed to come 10th position in stages 3 and 5, with an 8th position on stage 7!
Such an amazing event that I have no doubt will go down in EWS history as the best ever round of the Enduro World Series! Months and months of hard work put into this by Niall Davis and his Biking.ie crew, the marshals, the Photographers Alan Duffy, Adrian van der Lee, Cregor Elliott, Dermott Sweeney and media guys like Ben Merchant, the amazing supporters who heckled and cheered all day long, making this a truly unforgettable event! And not to forget, what a day to be Irish with category wins for Greg Callaghan in Elite Men, Killian Callaghan in Under 21's, Leah Maunsel in Under 21s and Robin Seymour in Masters! That is some feat for Irish mountain biking and says a lot for the standard of riding we have over here in this small island! And lets not forget, we know how to put on an after-party! I shall say no more!!
Finally, a massive thank you to Vitus Bikes and ChainReactionCycles who provided me with the ultimate Enduro weapon - the Vitus SommetPRO this year.
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider