Setting out my goals for 2017 back in September, the Irish Gravity Enduro Series was top on my list of races to podium and race well in. Performing well on home turf, to me, is much more important than any international race, and its when I have the most fun!
Preparing for this race had its ups and downs. I was very lucky to have two weeks off leading up to it, which meant that I could really ramp up my training as well as get cracking on that very long 'to do' list which is always a weight off the shoulders. Working and training full-time is always a juggling act, and definitely some things like family and friends take a back seat with me when I'm in full swing. Its only when the holiday time comes, that I really get to catch up with people and everyday stuff, which makes me feel very guilty about sometimes especially as I am not a professional racer. I'm sure some people find it hard to understand why one would devote so much time and energy to being an amateur but to me, its what makes me tick, drives me every day and keeps me working on myself like no other sport ever has.
So, knowing I had this race report to write this evening and feeling that post-race fatigue and general lethargy, I began to ask myself questions on my way home from work this evening....Why do I love racing so much? Why do I want to always do well? Why is it so important to me? And what do I ACTUALLY want from it? The answers that came to me were all very simply, I just want to get better and I want to be the best possible version of me and to never feel like I didn't give it 100%.
I guess no matter how I perform in a race, whether good or bad, I always have a strong feeling that I can do better, be a better bike handler, be smoother, be faster, fitter, stronger, fuel better, train better. I have very distinct memories of having this feeling and this drive from a very young age when I played basketball. It has stayed with me throughout my life in every sport I have ever played, and mountain biking is no exception. And its not a feeling of wanting to be 'Number 1', I've never felt like that or had that desire, it's more a case of a burning desire and drive to be the best that I can be, to feel like I am really reaching my potential and to never have regrets that I didn't give it my all. I think its human nature to feel that way about a lot of things in life, for me it just happens to be in sport, and for the past four and a half years, mountain biking has been my passion. It's there in everybody, it just comes down to whether or not you're willing to put the effort in to achieving it. I don't think I have ever felt that I could stop learning, there's just no end to the learning curve, if you want it bad enough. And so its in racing, that I get this amazing feeling of sheer exhaustion and euphoria that can only be felt after a race run! not to mention the high you're on all weekend from meeting everyone and catching that contagious happy vibe that just puts your race nerves at ease....until you get to the start line of the first stage! .....
So getting back to my prep for this race, the first week of my holidays were great, I was training smart, eating smart and sleeping great. The second week however, was a little different. I only got out on the bike on the Monday of that week and for the rest of it it was a different type of playtime, this time on a SUP board down in Enniscrone, Sligo. Feeling like it was a much needed break from the norm, it did me a lot of good, but I came back feeling fluey and spent the next few days lying low and just resting up. By Friday I was feeling back to my normal self again and decided to hit the gym. Probably not the best idea the day before a race weekend, but I felt like my body needed a kickstart and lifting heavy weights and low reps wasnt going to fatigue me too much....I was slightly wrong on this, the next day, although feeling as strong, my joints and muscles ached and were a little fatigued. Foam rolling, a hot bath and cold shower after the days practice was key to sorting this out and I spent the rest of the evening watching video footage of my practice runs from my Olfi.
For me, its always the climb up to the first stage that those race nerves really start to kick in. I get the whole 'jelly legs' feeling and if I'm bad, my mouth goes really dry. I end up drinking all my water, which is no wonder I always have a tendency to need the toilet right at this moment, which is never ideal considering I'm stuck up a mountain, but as a half-hippy 'vanlifer' this is minor. Once the first stage is over, I usually find my stride and start to relax a little.
This weekend was no different. Stage 1 felt okay but it was my worst stage time across all five. I settled into my stride afterwards and won the next stage. I dug really deep on Stage 3, never letting up on the pedalling, rode aggressively and kept it clean to pick up a decent time. After the long stage 3, we had a quick lunchstop and headed back up to crack on to the final two stages. I felt a bit of fatigue kicking in on the legs during Stage 4 and wasn't as clean on this stage as I had been on the previous two but still managed a decent time. I hit Stage 5 with all guns blazing, kept it clean apart from one little slid out and pushed hard right to the end. I was 0.4 seconds off first! So tight!
I was finished by 1.30pm so had the rest of the day to chill at the van chatting to people along the way, then back to the race village to wait for the pro men to finish and the podiums to commence. I had felt great on the bike today and the Transition was just a absolute joy to ride, especially on the many fast sections we were treated to. The Biking.ie crew put on a cracker of an event, they just seem to get better each year, no wonder it was a sell out.
With the podiums ready to go, I hear Leah is in and that I am just 13 seconds off the win and finished 97th out of 314 riders. It was a bitter sweet moment : ) Delighted to be so close to little pinner Leah Maunsell, but gutted to be so close to the win too! All the same, I was just so happy to come in second in such a stacked field of over 20 women, the best turnout there has ever been to an Enduro race in Ireland. Testament to the efforts that are being put in by so many people to get more women biking.
Massive thank you to Niall Davis and the Biking.ie crew for such a super race weekend, to Adrian van der Lee for the awesome photos, to my sponsors Flow MTB, WTB, Transition Bikes, ION, Kali Protectives, OLFI camera and The Bike Rack Dublin for really helping me through all these races. It makes such a difference to my overall performance to have top class kit and bike build at these races.
Serious well done to everyone who raced, to the 'first-timers' and hoping a speedy recovery to all those who picked up a few injuries in those moments of shredliness.... you know who you are ; )
Till next race! Gotta keep on truckin!
A dry race!!
The second round of the Polygon Grassroots Enduro took place in Killaloe, County Clare on Sunday. A grassroots enduro mountain bike race series, run by local mountain bike clubs in Ireland, is very much as challenging and technical as the National Enduro competitions around the country. The format is different to the regular Enduros as its blind racing, so no practice day, with three timed stages that riders can attempt as many times as they wish in the allocated time. Most riders do each stage twice, which is exactly what I did.
Heading off early on Sunday morning with my good friend Will Powderly, we picked up the two young ones, (Elite Mens' winner and Pyga Rider Gavin O'Connell and 17 year old Iosac Coleman) who were patiently waiting for us like two hippy hitchhikers on the side of the road. It was straight into the general banter and bike-talk, while we traveled in comfort in Will's motorhome, which he hopes to retire in someday : )
With a short coffee stop on the way, and Will's wonderful driving skills, we arrived in the beautiful village of Killaloe in just two hours.
I picked up my new Transition Carbon Patrol from The Bike Rack Dublin on Friday and went on its maiden voyage on Saturday, the day before the race. I was really excited about my first race on this awesome bike and getting into my snazzy new FlowMTB FOX teamkit! I literally found my flow immediately on the Patrol and had so much fun opening up on the bike.
After spending a short while registering and catching up with mates, many of whom I hadn't seen since last season, we headed up the climb to give stage 3 a crack. Hearing that this was a freshly built stage, I decided that I would tackle this one first before it got torn up. The bike felt super fast, and it felt great just letting it go flat out, pushing it to its limits! The only mistake I made was not getting used to the new cleats for my new ION Rascal shoes that I hadn't quite positioned right, and spent the first stage trying to get clipped back in while rolling down steep, rooty sections unclipped! Recipe for disaster! Thankfully I was able to go back and attempt it again after some readjusting of my cleats.
I did all stages twice, with my second attempt being my best runs.
Stage 1 was a pedally stage that had fast chutes and open sections that the bike just wanted to go. Stage 2 and 3 were much more technical with lots of roots and offcamber sections, rock gardens and some really nice jumps thrown into the mix. The lads at LMBC did a seriously great job on these trails and after the success of the race there last year, it was no wonder that this round sold out in under an hour.
After five straight hours on the bike, and with the last push up the transition, the tiredness had started to kick in. I got to the final stage of the day bang on 4pm, just at the cut off, and raced all the way into 2nd place on the podium!
Delighted with how the whole day went, and how the new bike felt, we headed back home in the camper full of the joys of life : ) A few photos down at the lake, we said our goodbyes, until next time!
Well done to all the LMBC crew, bikingdirty, the marshalls and photographers- especially my old pals from Galway MTB Andy and Kian Bichard - who put on a really well organised and seriously fun race. Already planning my next trip down west!
Massive THANK YOU to Al Maxwell at the Bike Rack Dublin for having my bike ready for me in time for this race. To FlowMTB for kitting my out in this super stylish gear (definitely makes you go faster ; ) and to WTB for their support this year.
Racing up North is always exciting as the trails are completely unknown to most of us Southerners! It was my first time to ever visit Lumpers, which is crazy as it took just over an hour to get there from Wicklow. Bellurgan Park in Co Louth, is a private woodland in the heart of the Cooley mountains, just a stones throw away from the trails at Lumpers. It was the perfect venue for Glyn O'Brien and his crew from First Tracks, to give us five timed stages, consisting of natural single track, as well as loose, muddy, technical trails, which were mostly gravity orientated. The lap including the transitions and stages was roughly 20km in total so it was very relaxed, just the way I like it!
I had planned to camp at the race village in the van for the weekend, but when I realised how close it was, a lift up with Al Maxwell from the Bike Rack and gunner Gavin O'Connell, was a much more entertaining option, and just made a lot more sense. That and coming home for a good nights kip in my own bed!
Arriving at 10am, we had the whole day ahead of us to practice the five stages and get our lines dialled. However, with the rain over the past few days, the once dry, loamy trails, were now transformed into slippy, bike-clogging trails that really tested me. It was the type of conditions that you only really ever get to ride at these events. A real test of riders skill and ballsiness! With 300 riders on the same muddy tracks, it really begins to expose the roots, rocks and holes and so commitment, line choice and staying loose was key to doing well this weekend.
With practice done and dusted after about 4 hours on the bikes, it was time to get back to the van, give the bikes their first round of washing, have a quick bite to eat and get on the road to do it all again tomorrow! I was feeling ok, but not how I had hoped to feel by the end of day one. With a lack of practice riding in these conditions, I always feel its a real weakness of mine, as I am a much more conservative rider in this type of heavy wet mud. Just staying on the bike, maintaining flow through the rough parts and pedal like a beast on the pedally sections to make up for lost time was my main aim.
We were so lucky with the weather, the sun decided to come out for the day and by the time we got to the final stage, the shclompy sections had dried up quite a bit and gave us a lot more grip on the trails.
I was feeling fresh and ready to go, but just as I was about to head over to the tent to clock in, my shoe lace broke!! I couldnt believe it! I blamed my mate Gav who was sitting in the van with the same random problem with his shoe! Seriously what were the chances of this happening! However, the ever reliable and simple cable-tie (a must for every mountain bikers backpack) came to the rescue and panic subsided.
With the mud caked onto the bikes, I was very glad I brought my portable bike wash with me! And it wasn't just the bike that needed a hose down!
Stage 1, was awful for me. I had a messy start and things didn't improve. It seemed like everyone else had a similar experience so I didn't feel so bad! Stage 2 was a lot better and I rode much more to my capabilities and finished it smiling - always a good sign.
Stages 3,4 and 5 were all better than stage 1 but I made way too many mistakes to catch up. I did my best to pedal hard on the pedally sections like I had planned, and at times I rode really well but it just wasnt enough for me and in the end I finished 3rd. Reflecting on the race, and with my tendancies to be very self-critical, I felt that ultimately my fitness is not where it needs to be and this really was a kick up the rear to get my diet in check. No matter how hard you train, if your diet isnt clean 80% of the time, then you are not reaping the benefits of your hard graft. For me, I have a great diet the majority of the time, but with my very sweet tooth, ive yet to break the sugar addiction! With Enduro racing, fitness is KEY. And the key to fitness, I believe, is diet.
So, I have just 7 weeks to go until the biggest and most important race of the season - Round 4 of the Enduro World Series in Ireland. My goal is to be at the top of my game for this so, its game on!
Massive well done to Vitus First Tracks for putting on a brilliant first round of the series. The turnout was excellent, with a stacked field of top riders. Really looking forward to Round #2 in
Donard in just a few weeks, what better way to prepare for the biggy!!
A massive thank you to WTB for sponsoring me this season. This weekend I ran a Convict on the front and Vigilante on the rear, a super combination for these conditions.
And my new team FLOWMTB! Thank you so much for your support! I am so looking forward to racing in the new kit next weekend, cant wait : ) www.flowmtb.co.uk
Next stop......Killaloe, Co.Clare for Round #2 of the Grassroots Enduro. Race season is well and truely ON.
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider