This was my third year to race the Redbull Foxhunt and am delighted to have kept my winning streak and finish first woman down! It was, by far, the most epic of them all! Not only were the jumps bigger and the track gnarlier, the rain the night before had made it even greasier than the day before which made for a very entertaining race! From start to finish, it was just brilliant craic!
Every year we've been chased down the hill by the Fantastic Mr.Fox, Gee Atherton, but this year we had not one but three foxes! Local legend Colin Ross and World Cup Champion Loic Bruni!
Back at the race village, the atmosphere was electric with people and bikes everywhere, Dave Bullet on the mike entertaining the masses, the media crew buzzing around the Pro riders who in turn were busy chatting to the public, all keen to get their selfie taken with the legends!
Race Day - Morning Practice
With the excitement building the morning of the race, and that itch to get going, I was in the queue for the first uplift and headed for the top of the hill, right to where the race would be starting.
The hill was thick with mist as I pushed and peddled my way up the single track, keeping my eyes peeled for sneaky lines off the main trail, looking for shortcuts to avoid the masses and bottlenecks….not exactly the easiest thing to achieve! When I finally arrived at the top, I realised it was just me, myself and a few sheep! Not a soul to be seen! I took in the views of Slieve Bloom during the brief intervals of the mist clearing, picked my route and let her go. The track was noticeably greasier than the qualifying race the day before, with more exposed rocks on the top sections and just general slickness. I made it down, sticking pretty much to the same lines as the seeding run.
Let the Carnage Commence!
I spent the next couple of hours just hanging out at the race village, washed my bike which was by now caked in mud, a change of socks and gloves and collected my foxhunt jersey!
A couple of hours later, and I was back on the hill, this time amongst a sea of red and feeling a very different vibe to just a few hours ago! There was excitement in the air as we lined up in our rows, ready for the Huntsman to sound the bugle and for the carnage to commence!
After the drone zipped past us, we cheered as the bugle sounded and roared our way down the hill, avoiding bog holes, fallen riders and bikes! I had a great start, sticking to my line to the right of the hill, but when I saw the carnage at the bridge, I decided to hop the barbed wire fence, run my bike through the ditch and trudge along the long grassy bog, passing riders on the single track as I ploughed my way through. I somehow managed to make it back onto the single track without crashing into the riders coming through and hopped back onto my bike. My goggles had fogged up so much that I had to just race without them, sometime one-eyed which didn't help the cause!
Squeezing and elbowing my way past riders, cutting onto the grass, I turned left off the main track through the bog just by the wooden bridges and did my best not to get caught up in the carnage here where many riders were experiencing comical 'ham' moments! There were riders and even bikes literally flying through the air in front of me!
Once through this section and the bottleneck of the singletrack, I opened it up on the top downhill track, hitting the jumps while trying to avoid crashing into riders, making some seriously hairy overtaking! Instead of following the more technical track through the woods which I had done all day for practice, I took the easier track to the left and cut through the turns, straighlining the track. There were so many close calls with oncoming riders it was insane! By now the adrenaline was pumping and I was in serious race mode! Back onto the track at Hecklers rock, I could hear the crowds roaring and oohing as I was almost taken out while hitting a jump at the same time as another rider, both of us landing in unison into a berm a little less than perfectly! With my eyes on the prize and it was every man and woman for themselves right to the finish line!
Stoked to finish 163 out of 404 finishers!
It was just an epic race and overall brilliant weekend. I don't think there were many who didn't have an absolute blast and want to go up and do it all again!
Congrats to PlushMTB and Redbull for a super job and for this awesome experience. Now for a little rest after what was an absolute adventure of a race season.
Till next year….
A huge thank you to my sponsors for their fantastic support this season:
The Bike Rack Dublin
OLFI Action Camera
USA - August
It was time to take a break from racing and do some real exploring! I spent a week road tripping with my friend from Arizona, travelling Route 66, visiting the Grand Canyon, the desert, Moab and seeing some absolutely stunning natural landscape that I will never forget.
The Grand Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon
Walking through the sandstone walls of of the upper Antelope Canyon was like discovering a magical underground world. It was literally breathtaking.
Horseshoe Lake, Utah
Week 4 - Alpe d'Huez
Arriving in Alpe D'Huez late Monday evening, we set up camp just as the sun went down. The next day I did some exploring and headed off for a day of pedalling taking in the lower section of the Mega course down to Oz. I bumped into old friends of mine, who id met through racing and they mentioned that there was an Enduro happening the next day! ''An Enduro race you say''? I was on it! I emailed the race organisers and by 8pm that evening, I was down at registration getting myself signed on. This wasn't in my 'Mega' race week plan but I didn't care, this looked like it was going to be great craic, and after the disapointment of Millau, I needed some fun!
Wednesday morning, and I was up at the crack of dawn and at the gondola which was to take me down to Oz for the Enduro. It was a 3 stage race, completely blind and completely wild!!! We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into!
We headed up on the gondola from Oz back to Alpe d'Huez for Stage 1. This photo below is where it started, as you can see, there was little to no tape to mark the course so it was pretty much a free for all and the blind leading the blind!
The format was that riders would race in pairs against each other. Because I was so late to register for this, I was thrown in with the Men! It also turned out that my 'partner' never showed up, so I had no-one to race against which had its pro's and cons. It meant that I, like 90% of the group, got completely lost on this stage which started on the top of this mountain. Once I found the taped single track, I was decending at top speeds for almost 20 minutes. Apart from the very confusing top section, this was an awesome stage, so I was pretty gutted when the race organisers cancelled the results from it due to the confusion.
Stage 2 was the old downhill track which you can see from the gondola as you take it up from Oz. As you can see from the photo above, it had plenty of steep, gnarly rock slabs with the odd crash mat thrown in...just in case : )
We had time for a bit of a track walk, so I picked my lines at the sections that I managed to look at. It looked steep but not difficult. It was dry so there was plenty of grip, I was really pumped for this one.
I had a great start and hit all my lines I had checked out which worked out sending me fast and smoothly down the rocks. I continued to ride well through this stage, but mid-stage, there were sections that were literally unridable and you had to dismount and carry the bike through giant boulders, rivers and ditches. It was great craic and so different to any race id ridden before!
Finally onto Stage 3, another super techy and physically demanding stage that brought us back into the race village at Oz where I was greeted by race organiser and a microphone, asking me how I got on. When asked if it was as tough as the Mega, I told her it was on a parr! We had just raced three downhill tracks blind, with long fast and rough pedally sections, carried our bikes through rivers and over boulders and through fresh cut off-camber grass sections....yes it had been tough and intense and I had absolutely loved every second of it!
We all sat down to a super spread, live music, fantastic bbq and beer on tap!
A snippet of quali practice
QUALIFICATION RACE: Time: 21mins 31 Position: 5th Masters, 12th Overall
MAIN RACE: Time: 1hr05 Position: 4th Masters, 12th Overall
Week 3 - EWS Week
After the French Enduro Cup, I was back on the road again the next day. This time it was down to the Midi-Pyrenees, in Southern France for Round 5 of the Enduro World Series. The stunning town of Millau (pronounced me-ow, yes just like a cat) was to be my second EWS of the season so I was really looking forward to this one.
Arriving on Monday evening after a full day of driving through the some sensational scenery, I had two days of rest before practice began. The format was two practice days on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by two days of flat out racing Friday and Saturday. The week started as it meant to go on weather wise with bouts of torrential wind and rain followed by baking heat and temperatures well into the 30's.
My rest days seemed to fly by with the usual 'to do list' to get through - unpacking, organising and setting up the awning, kitchen area etc., preparing meals, registering, and most importantly, getting my bike and gear ready. The next four days were going to be hectic!
Practice Day #1
Day 1 was the longest with five stages to hit. The good thing about the practice days was the fact that the transitions were all lift assisted, so there was very little climbing to do. The stages were long, technical and tough and it was a really hot day, so even with this assistance, we were all feeling it. After each stage, I was back in the forty minute que back up the hill, which was a little frustrating for us privateers who didn't have the luxury of personal transportation.
There was a lot of talk going around about how tough a race it was going to be and this kicked off that little voice in my head of self-doubt. I began to question whether or not I had done enough training for this, how quickly I was going to be able to recover between stages after the tough climbs and my freshness to ride each of these tough ass stages. Unfortunately, this was where it all went wrong for me.
Practice Day #2
Day 2 was just as awesome, and possibly even better than the first. There was a little more pedalling involved in this one but nothing I couldn't handle. The stages on Day 2 were a little less physical but still had a lot of punch in them and I finished the day feeling good but exhausted.
I got back to the van around 5pm. By the time I had a shower, cooked dinner, organised my bike and race kit it was 9pm. I packed up the van and headed up the mountain to spend the night at the start of Stage 1. It had been a tiring week with all the travelling, living out of a van, the training, and pretty much trying to juggle everything. I had no idea just how much effect this had on me....until race day.
Race Day #1
It was the morning of the first race day and I didn't feel tired but I didn't feel great either, it was a 'meh' feeling. As the women weren't off until 10:40, I could take my time getting ready and there was no stress which was nice. I headed over to where the other girls were and immediately felt at ease when I got chatting to them all. The air had that familiar 'race' feel to it, a mix of nerves, excitement, anticipation and the eagerness to just get going! In no time at all, I found myself lining up and hearing the old familiar ''5,4,3,2,1, GO!" and that was it, I was off!
Stage 1 was a lot different to how it was in practice, it was almost unrecognisable. It had become much more physical with deeper ruts, more exposed roots and washed out corners. There was no time for rest in this stage, it was a case of staying focused and on the gas for the whole duration. I rode well, catching the two girls in front of me but I couldnt help but feeling sluggish and tired. I pulled off the trail towards the end to allow a rider pass and somehow fell off my bike in doing so...fatigue had set in and was now the biggest thing against me.
Getting to the finish line, had a quick drink and a recap with the other riders around me on the stage we'd just done and I was back on the bike to Stage 2.
The transition was tough. It wasn't until we were halfway up after 25minutes of pushing our bikes up a steep track, that we realised we were pushing up Stage 4! It was hot, and seemed to go on forever. As girls passed me, my legs got heavier and I that voice in my head started to get louder. 'I'm not good enough for this'' ''if I'm wrecked now, how will I survive two full days of this'' ''am I enjoying this?'' These are the questions that went through my mind. Its not the first time I had asked myself these questions during a race, but usually I would be strong enough to shut them up, tell myself to keep going, and that YES - I am good enough! But this time it was different. I felt like I just didn't have the mental or physical strength, I was just down right tired. It had been a full on two weeks and maybe the stress of travelling and the work involved in it all had just gotten to me. So much so that I turned off at the fireroad, just before the start of stage 2, and went back to the van. Game over.
A lot of self-reflection went on that day.
I spent the next day supporting this lad, Glyn O'Brien, who was having a super race in the Masters Category. The Irish riders had done well overall, with Scott Wallace putting in a great race up until he had a big crash on Day 2 which meant he had to pull out. The podiums took place down at the massive race village where the annual Millau Games festival was taking place. That evening, there was a huge party with hundreds of people out for the 'Games' bouldering competition and the live music. I put this one behind me as experience and realised that its best for me not to race a week before a big one like this, that was the first mistake I had made.
Onwards and upwards, next stop - THE MEGA!!!
Week 2 - Val d'allos
We were back on the road again, this time to Val d'Allos, a ski resort town on the edge of the Mercantour National park in the southern Alps. The six hour drive didn't phase me as the unforgettable landscape made the journey fly by. However, the journey wasnt totally smooth running. As I went to overtake a truck before entering a tunnel, just outside the town of Gap, I heard a loud BANG! then smoke and I immediately pulled over to the look of sheer horror on the boys faces! I felt slightly comforted by the fact that I had bought breakdown assist before leaving for France so I got onto them immediately as the thought was that the shock mount had gone.....this really would have been the worse case scenario and I began to imagine being stuck here in Gap for the weekend and saying 'au revoir' to racing the French Cup! With the boys sorted for a lift for the remainder of the 1.5hr journey with the Maunsells, I settled myself in the van for the four hour wait for the recovery guy to arrive.
By 8pm I was back in the game!! It turned out to be simply that the turbo hose had disconnected and I found myself making the remainder of the outrageously danderous road on the coll to Val d'Allos in the dark and made it just in time for registration deadline.
The format of this race was typical French style blind racing. Two days, 8 timed stages. Day one we had three stages. We got one practice run of stages one and two before being timed. So after one practice run of S1, we went straight back up for the race run. The same for S2 but S3 was completely blind with no practice run. So we did a total of five stage runs on day 1.
With a great practice run on the first stage, unfortunately my race run didnt go as well. Half way through the stage I lost my chain and in fact, both jockey wheels came off! Disaster! I ended up having to run the rest of the stage. I know had a lot of time to make up now for the next stage. I ran back to the van, frantically looking for my spare derailleur. I had forgotten that a similar problem happened the week before in Morzine where I had lost a jockey wheel and replaced it from my spare derailleur. So now all I had was a spare derailleur which was missing one jockey wheel! I spent the next half an hour asking around the race village, hoping someone would have a spare jockey wheel. I had lost all hope when I met my mate Jonny Maunsell who was able to come to my rescue! Within minutes I was back up on the chairlift and heading to S2.
After Day 1 complete, we got back to the van to get ready to do it all again tomorrow. The routine usually went as follows: Wash and check bike, dump race kit into bag, get kit ready for the next day, head down to next village for a shower, head to race village for the amazing paella and red wine supplied, go to bed!
With a much better run on S2, I was feeling great and the bike was running superbly well.
It was a seriously fun race, in a field of faaaaast French girls so was happy with a Top Ten out of 9 finishers ; ) Well done to Irish pinner Leah Maunsell on 5th amongst a stacked field.
Week 1 - Morzine
Being my fourth summer in a row travelling around France and Italy in my trusty VW Transporter van, I was by now a 'pro' at planning! Like all my previous summer roadtrips packing in as many enduro races and days on the bike in as possible, this one was by far to be the most full on trip with regards to racing. After a very busy year teaching, I was ready to 'live the dream' as they say, once again!
The trip was planned months in advance, pretty much as soon as I knew race dates. Im used to packing in a lot of biking during these trips, but this one was to be my busiest ever with four races entered over four consecutive weeks:
Week 1 - French Cup, Val d'Allos
Week 2 - EWS, Millau
Week 3 - Mega Avalanche Cup, Alpe d'huez
Week 4 - SuperEnduro, La Thuile, Italy
In between these races was unplanned so a few days in Morzine, Les Arcs and Val d'Isere was on the cards!
I had a very busy few weeks leading up to the trip as I was racing and working for the www.streetvelodrome.co.uk in Dublin and Northern Ireland. I still managed to get everything ready in time and without too much stress! The essential (which I found out to be very useful) Breakdown Assist bought, racing insurance with Cycling Ireland (I wasnt taking any chances after last year), a full van service to make sure she was in perfect nick and ready for a 3500km roadtrip, the bike in for the full once over with the Bike Rack Dublin and any spares and essentials bought and packed as these can be quite expensive in France.
We hit the road Tuesday 20th of June, hopped on the ferry that night and arrived in Cherbourg the next day at 16:30. Being the only driver between the three of us, I kept myself well stocked up on coffee during the ten hour journey to Morzine. After seven hours driving, we stopped off for a few hours sleep at a petrol station.....me squished in the van amongst all of our gear, the lads having a sleep on the grass under the stars as there was no point in putting up their gigantic seven man tent! This was the epitomy of #vanlife!
After an awsome full day riding in Morzine, we set off early the next morning for Val d'Allos, our next destination for some French Enduro Cup racing! Wohoo : )
This was a weekend I will never forget!
After months of preparation, it was hard to believe that the Emerald Enduro 2017 was finally here, and it was tougher, more grueling and every bit as exciting as the previous two years had been here in County Wicklow. Six awesome, challenging stages, tough climbs, tight transition times and an unbelievable turnout of supporters, made this an unforgettable race that will be hard to beat. The crowds turned out in their droves, erupting whenever riders passed, creating an unforgettable atmosphere that was mind-blowing! There is no doubt in my mind that the Irish supporters are by far the best in the world!! Without being biased : )
With the heatwave that swept the country the week leading up to the event, you would be forgiven to think for a moment that we were going to be a 'third time lucky' and in for a dry race. This was definitely not the case!! Teased with amazing hot weather on Friday, the first day of practice, we were treated to four amazing dry, dusty, loamy stages. However, torrential rain all day Saturday, made for a huge contrast in conditions and Friday's practice was almost a distant memory! The downpour turned the once dry, dusty tracks into a wrath of wet, exposed slippy roots, deep ruts, slick rock gardens that had barely any grip, deep gullies and stodgy mud that caked our bikes. It was a test of riders sheer skill, strength, stamina that got you through the day as well as a 'no fear' commitment when attacking the technical sections that even the top guys and girls struggled with.
The Lead up to the Race
I spent the day on Thursday getting everything ready for the weekend. In a big race like this, there is always a huge amount of organisation to do and was key in ensuring that I would have as little stress as possible over the weekend. The main things that needed to be done were:
1. Bike Prep
I spent hours giving my Transition Patrol a full valet, ensuring it was in showroom condition and in perfect working order. I had left it in with the lads at The Bike Rack Dublin the week before for a full check over and a brake bleed so I knew it was mint. Tyre choice was a big factor today as dry weather was forecast with potential rain on Saturday. I decided to play it by ear and go with my usual tough, high grip WTB Vigilante on the front but changed my rear tyre to a fast rolling, tough Trailboss on the rear. After the rain on Friday night however, I changed over to a tough, high grip WTB Vigilante on the rear for maximum grip! These tyres performed superbly on the greasy stages and are a tyre I have always had so much confidence in.
2. Gear & Food
Making sure I had all my kit organised for the weekend and a set of kit ready for each day. This year I am extremely lucky to be sponsored by ION Bike who have kitted me out with everything I need for the season. Their gear is not only really nice and fits so well, their attention to detail is definitely unique and pretty damn cool! Flow MTB supplied my FOX teamkit which I was keeping fresh for race day : )
I made sure my OLFI Action Camera was fully charged and ready for action! This was one thing I always use in practice so I can watch over the footage the night before a race to learn the tracks.
As fueling is so important when racing, and especially in such a tough weekend as this was, I had to ensure that not only had I all my meals prepped in advance for each day but my diet leading up to the race was clean and smart as this is equally as important. Prepping like this means more time to rest and recover at the end of the day. Thanks to Austin Rhatigan PT for his coaching and advice on fueling. I had everything I needed for each day, with meals cooked and ready to be reheated when I got home.....up there for thinkin' down there for dancin' : )
The format was simple, practice day one - Stages 1,2,3 and 4. Practice day two - Stage 5 and 6.
Friday, day one, was a scorcher of a day and the tracks were mint. It was tough in the heat, especially for a ginger! I got through the day great, had a blast on each of the stages and felt strong and fast. Day two, Saturday, was a different kettle of fish. With rain forecast, we weren't quite prepared for the torrential downpour that was to come. There was no let up with the rain all day either so the tracks were completely different and some sections almost unrecognizable.
This was the newly built stage and was one that, in the wet, exposed completely different challenges to the rider. Dropping straight into the stage, I was feeling confident and rode well through the greasy track, over the two rock slabs and down to the next corner. It was here at the rock drop that I crashed, taking an over the bars losing valuable seconds. I picked myself up and really went for it for the rest of the stage. However, another crash at the very tricky tight turn down a steep wet bank onto the fire-road, lost me more time and with crooked bars I had to get off the bike to straighten them before continuing onto the finish point. I felt so dissapointed with this run, finishing 29th, my worst stage, I was determined to ride clean with no off's in the next stage. Talking to other riders along the transition who had just finished stage 2, assured me that everyone had a bad run on Stage 1 and that the rest of the stages have a lot more grip. This was reassuring!
Stage 2 was last year's stage 1. I was looking forward to this one as there are some wooded sections where you can really pick up speed and have a blast on. I rode better on this stage but didn't manage to have a fully clean run! Catching up with the rider in front, I knew I was going fairly well, but with such a stacked field of awesome riders, I still only managed a 25th in this stage.
This was the one that I was hoping to really nail! Starting up on the big rock, this was the second biggest spectator viewing point as it was a very technical rock section and one that the crowds love as it really tested riders skills and bravery! This is where the Patrol really performed and was absolutely solid in the technical sections. Thanks to my good friend Mateja for catching my run down the GREASY rocks! The crowds were just insane, it was such an absolute adrenalin rush and was amazing to experience this kind of support. The roars, heckling, cheering, it was just something else! The rest of the stage went pretty well for me, I kept it pretty much clean til the end with maybe one little slip up. With a 22nd position in this stage, things were starting to get better!!
At this point, I was starting to feel fatigue setting in. With so little time to rest between each stage, it was a case of finishing a stage and getting straight back up the hill climb to the next. I felt sorry for anyone who had a mechanical or a bad stage run as even without this, we were under pressure to get to the next stage on time. I didn't stop at the food stop until the transition to the final stage, as luckily I had enough water and supplies to keep me going throughout the day.
The stage went well, I don't remember much about this one but I do remember it being really greasy through the tight trees at the bottom section and having to do alot of foot out cornering! With a 25th position I reckon I could have pushed harder.
After a brief lunchstop where I could only stomach a protein bar, put some oil on my chain and caught up with a few people, it was back up the hill for the final two stages of the day. I was feeling it at this point, the constant pedaling with no let up and physically not being able to eat meant that I reached stage 5 feeling pretty whacked. I got to the top, composed myself, and took on some carbohydrate drink. It was a slow start in the mud, but once I got to the steep rocky section it was the massive roars from the crowds that got me going and I had a super clean run down the steep rock garden, railed into the left-hander and sent it over the ski-jump to the roars of the crowds....it was insane!!! I nailed this stage, totally clean run and really pushed it to finish with my best run in 19th position. Now I had just one more climb back up the hill to do and to tackle the now famous 'Carnage Corner' on the final stage - Emerald Express.
Being the last climb of a very tough day, I was very glad to be at the start line at this point. We had been going non-stop for six hours at this point, had tackled the hill six times with bikes caked in thick, gloopy mud and now it was the much loved (and hated) carnage corner to get down. I had practiced this before, just not in these conditions so when I got to it, it was completely unrecognisable! The crowds here were so loud, so crazy, it was hard to focus on the task at hand! I got down the tough greasy rock garden well but lost the front wheel just before carnage corner and slid out. I pointed the front wheel into the turn but somehow lost control and smashed into the tree where there were supporters roaring and ooohing : ) A little winded and shook, I took one look at the next drop and had to walk it. I have never had to walk this section before, and knew it well, but after the hit I took, and the change in conditions, I think I made a wise decision! I hoped back on the bike but struggled to clip my left foot back in so I was a little slow on the next bit. Finding my flow again, I finished the stage as best I could and finished in 21st position.
Finally there! Dropping down into the race village was a proud moment. Just finishing the race was an accomplishment in itself, so along with everyone else, I was so relieved and in to be one piece. Finishing in 11th position last year, I had hoped to do better than my position of 22nd but it was a much bigger field of women with 45 racing as well as much tougher conditions. An amazing experience, definitely up there with my top two toughest ever races, it has taken me days to come down from the 'high'. Another massive achievement from Niall Davis, Biking.ie and everyone who made it happen. Well done to everyone who competed and all the first-timers.
Massive thanks to my sponsors for their continued support and encouragement!
My team - Flow MTB
WTB, ION BIKE, OLFI, The Bike Rack Dublin, Transition Bikes, KaliProtectives
A last minute decision to race certainly paid off this weekend!
Having weeks ago deciding that racing so close to the Enduro World Series was a bad idea as the risk of injury, as well as fatigue, was too high, for some reason on Thursday I changed my mind. I hadn't had much time on the bike the week leading up to it and as a result, I was feeling sluggish. There's nothing like racing to kickstart both mind and body into action so I decided to go with it.
Saturday practice started off well with the sun out splitting the stones. The tracks were bone dry and super fast! We got through Stage One, Two and halfway down Three, it was as if the sky literally burst and the rain came pelting down. We all tried to take shelter under the trees but it was so heavy, we got soaked to the skin and the rain was just relentless. After about twenty minutes or so, we rode the rest of the stage in the rain which was WILD and headed back to the van, soaked to the core and freezing!
After a quick drying off, we headed down to the lovely coastal town of Newcastle, based at the foot of the Slieve Donard mountain. Such a pretty town, I couldn't stop taking photos! After a good feed in the local and a walk around, we headed back to the campsite to watch some video footage from my OLFI action camera, put some tunes on and prepared everything for race day.
As a result, we ended up riding stages 4 and 5 blind on race day, which added to the fun and craziness of it all! I had an absolute blast of a race! Stormed into second just 23 seconds off the win with a time of 21:29 and blazed through five awesome stages! Racing against the one and only Meave Baxter was tough but the best woman won! Absolutely gunning for next weekend now!
Massive thanks to The Bike Rack Dublin for having the Transition Patrol in mint condition as always! To Glyn and Cat O'Brien and the Vitus First Tracks Race Division team for such a brilliant race, Donard definitely lived up to its name for having some of the best enduro tracks in Ireland.
Great video edit by Harry Thompson on the race. I managed to get a feature at 38seconds where you will see my Rockshox Lyrik forks doing their thang!
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!
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider