Having averaged around 5 hours sleep per night in the days leading up to Round 5 of the PMBA Enduro Series, it’s safe to say I wasn’t feeling on top form when we rocked up at Kirroughtree on Sunday morning. As I’d had to work the previous day, we’d planned to head up that evening and stay in the van, but when 11pm came and went, and Dan was still tinkering with his bike, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.
Kirroughtree in Dumfries and Galloway is a pretty long drive from Liverpool, but after leaving at 6am we made it there for 9.30am, which wasn’t bad going, and I managed a bit of a power nap on the way.
Although we got there in good time, Dan then proceeded to spend another hour doing what he likes to refer to as “fettling”, but I prefer to call “fannying around” with his bike. Feeling robbed of an extra hour in bed and valuable practice time, I eventually set off without him.
Half an hour later I was pedalling around the fire roads of Kirroughtree forest trying, and failing miserably, to find the start of stage one. A mini meltdown promptly ensued as the stresses of the past 24 hours caught up with me, and not feeling in any fit state to race, especially without having practiced the stages, I was ready to just sack the whole thing off. Realising I was being silly, I gave myself a shake and retraced my pedal strokes to where I’d last seen a sign, but before I got there I bumped into Dan, who was also lost. Turned out we’d both missed the sign for a push-up trail into the forest. Doh.
By this time we didn’t have much practice time left so had to make the executive decision to skip the first two stages and just ride them blind in the race. We rushed through the stages, satisfied that, other than a few steep sections, there was nothing too challenging, but by the time we got back to the van, it was already a blur. As I switched off my Garmin, a recommended recovery time of 22 hours flashed up, which, given I had approximately 22 minutes until my race run, was quite amusing, in a laugh or cry kinda way.
So, that’s me got my excuses in for having a bit of a shocker of a race. And I might as well throw in the fact that I was riding a new bike that I’d only ridden once before. Plus, I’d forgotten to wear my lucky pants.
Anyway, enough of my sob stories, and more about the race. It wasn’t just us who’d been beset by problems in the lead up to the event. Kev and his team of helpers had built a brand new trail for the event, but at the eleventh hour it was deemed unsafe to ride, so they had had to change the route, replacing Stages 2 and 3 with a couple that had been used in last year’s race. This meant that the loop was now a bit shorter, which, given my fatigued state, I was quite pleased about, although the cancelled stages had sounded pretty good.
As we set off on our race lap, it looked as though the heavens were about to open, which would’ve made things interesting on some of the steep sections, but other than a couple of light showers, it stayed reasonably dry. This time round I managed to make it to the top of Stage 1 without getting lost, which was a bonus. I also made it to the bottom, but what happened in between is a bit hazy. All I really remember is that it was relatively long and there was a fair bit of pedalling involved, which my legs weren’t up for at all.
I also had to ride Stage 2 (aka Stage 4) blind, but fortunately it turned out to be a descent called “Hissing Sid” that we’d ridden when we were up that way the previous week. The moniker refers to the biggest of several steep rocky corners that punctuate the otherwise flowing singletrack. Miraculously I actually remembered some of the best lines to take, and managed a clean run, even overtaking a couple of blokes on the way down.
Even though I could remember parts of a trail I’d ridden over a week ago, I could barely remember the ones I’d ridden only a couple of hours previously, and as I stood at the top of Stage 3 (aka Stage 5), which was accessed via the same push-up as Stage 1, I felt like I might as well have been riding it blind. Certain parts started to become familiar as I rode it, but generally only after I’d already made my line choice. From what I remember, there were some slippy roots to contend with near the top, a pedally section, a sharp drop that I decided to somersault down, and a steep chute with several different line choices. I also spent the whole stage in anticipation of a steep ending, only to pass the bleeper and realise that it was on the next stage.
Although fairly short, Stage 4 (6) was probably the trickiest of all the stages. It started off easily enough on some trail centre stuff, then after a quick fireroad sprint, turned into natural trails that gradually increased in gradient. Towards the end there some tight, steep, muddy corners to slide down before a difficult rooty drop with three different lines that all seemed equally difficult. Ruling out the off camber one to the right, and the less direct one on the left, I opted for the middle one with a dead tree to squeeze past. I got down it but then decided I had time for a quick roll in the loam and some banter with the marshals before snaking down the final steep section and plunging down the chute past the bleeper.
The amnesia returned with full force for Stage 5, and given some of my dodgy line choices, you’d think I’d never ridden it before. The worst was missing the inside line by the ‘stane’ and going round the tree, which would definitely have added a few precious seconds to my time. The stage was a mix of trail centre and natural trails, and was fairly pedally. There were quite a few supporters lining the final stage, and one thing I do remember is a young lad telling me to keep my head in the game, or words to that effect, which made me smile. I just wish he’d been there for some of the earlier stages, as I could definitely have used his words of wisdom then.
I ended up finishing 11th out of 19 women, which was definitely my worst result of the series so far. My only comfort, and final excuse, was that it was a pretty stacked field, including Becky Cook, Eilidh Wells, Katie Clark and Rosslyn Newman, who all took their place on the podium alongside local youngster Polly Henderson who absolutely smashed it, finishing in second place, on a hardtail!
I slept all the way back to Liverpool and most of the next morning, and when I woke up, I was ill. I’m glad my body managed to fight it until after the race, but it had better fight even harder to get rid of this lurgy before I head out to the Alps this weekend!
As always, massive thanks to Kev and Mike for arranging another top event, as well as everyone else who helped to make it happen, especially the marshals and supporters who kept me smiling when I really didn’t feel like it.