Scrolling through the seeding list for the British Enduro Championships and seeing the likes of Tracy Moseley, Katy Winton and Bex Baraona on there, it started to hit me just what I’d signed up for. If the prospect of a 44 kilometre course with 1,700 metres elevation and 10 tough stages didn’t already have me feeling anxious, seeing my name alongside some of the world’s top Enduro riders certainly did.
When the race info came through, it did little to calm my nerves:
“In all honesty, this steep section will not be race-able by the majority”, read the description for Stage 5.
“Riding and tripoding down, the aim will be to stay on and keep on the tight line. Difficult corners into even steeper chutes will get many a butt clenching and probably result in the few soiled shorts. There is no shame in walking down here!”
Needless to say, by the time the weekend of the race came around, a few butterflies had started to congregate in my stomach. As it was such a big loop, practice was split over two days, with the six stages in Grizedale on the Friday and four Graythwaite ones on Saturday.
An awesome race village had been set up in the grounds of Graythwaite Hall, offering free camping, portaloos, hot showers, a bike wash, mechanical support from Shimano, a beer tent and food van.
Having raced at both Grizedale and Graythwaite previously, some of the race stages were familiar, but there were also plenty of changes and new additions, including a completely new trail that had only been dug in earlier that week, and the ‘Super Steep’ Stage 5, which had been deemed too extreme to use in previous races. However, with this being the British Championships, and an Enduro World Series qualifier, things had definitely been stepped up a notch, and each of the stages were technical and challenging, particularly 5, which was every bit as terrifying as promised.
With around 500 riders signed up for the race, the stages were pretty congested during practice, particularly on the numerous tricky sections, where riders stopping to session difficult lines caused bottlenecks, making it almost impossible to get a decent shot at some bits.
By Saturday night, I was certainly starting to feel the effects of two days’ practice and a couple of crashes, so after some carb loading (courtesy of both the food van and the beer tent) and final preparations, it was early to bed.
The only way to get 500 riders round a seven and a half hour long course by a reasonable time was to start early, and it was my category, Vet Women that had the pleasure of setting off first, at 7.40am. I’d barely woken up before I found myself pushing up the steep track to the top of Stage 1, hot on the heels of the marshals, who were only just heading up themselves.
If the push up hadn’t helped to rouse us, Stage 1 was enough to provide a rude awakening. There was no breaking us in gently with what was one of the most difficult stages on the entire course. After a steep, off camber descent into the forest, we were faced with an undulating, pedally trail with plenty of off camber roots and awkwardly positioned rocks to interrupt your flow. After a while the trail swung right to take the fall line down some steep rooty chutes through the trees with the odd rock drop thrown in for good measure. The gradient of this section continued to increase, culminating in a brake meltingly steep 180 degree bend, which I’d come a cropper on in practice. Fortunately in race mode, I got down it no problem, but then proceeded to skid out on one of the loose bends on the relatively easy final section!
Stage 2 was another that had been built for last year’s PMBA Enduro at Graythwaite, but unlike Stage 1, remained unchanged. Although on similar terrain to Stage 1, the gradient was much more gentle, making it much less of a white-knuckle ride, and more about speed and flow.
Next it was over to Satterthwaite for Stage 3 on the classic DH line; a popular section of Grizedale off-piste. It’s a trail I know and love, and it was running super fast in the dry conditions.
A fairly long transition then took us up to Carron Crag for Stage 4, and another section of trail that was familiar to anyone who’d raced at Grizedale before. On this occasion we were spared the tricky top section, which I was actually a little disappointed about, but there were still plenty of shiny off camber roots to contend with before popping out of the trees and continuing down to the black descent on the North Face Trail, which was extremely loose in the dry conditions.
Now it was time for the dreaded Stage 5. As I pedalled up towards the Parkamoor bridleway, I desperately tried to channel positive thoughts but visions of losing my line on one of the steep corners and crashing head first into a tree kept creeping in there. I knew I was able to get down it, but what worried me most, was encountering someone else on the trail, as I knew there was only one narrow line down, and no space for passing.
By the time we arrived at the top of the stage, I was psyched up and ready to go, but we then had to wait for around twenty minutes for the medics to arrive on site, by which time the nerves had well and truly set in. Fortunately, when I did eventually set off, nerves turned to adrenaline and, incredibly, other than a couple of dabs, I managed a clean run down. By the time I got to the bottom my arms were burning, and I was absolutely buzzing at not only having got down in one piece, with shorts unsoiled, but having done it with some semblance of style!
With Stage 5 out of the way, I felt I could relax a bit, and Stage 6 provided a bit of light relief with a short and relatively straightforward blast down to the shores of Coniston Water.
From here came a long fireroad climb back up to Carron Crag, which would’ve been a bit of a slog, but a bit of a chinwag with some of the other girls provided the perfect distraction from the grind, and what lay in wait at the top.
Stage 7 was another tricky one that had tensions running high. Although not particularly steep, it was a very freshly cut trail with loads of awkward roots, rocks, dips and boggy bits to catch you out. In practice it had been the worst for bottlenecks and I hadn’t really managed to ride it properly, but it came together ok for my race run, other than losing all momentum before a climb out of the forest and having to scramble up on foot. I was soon able to pick up speed again though, on some big loose bends and a lung-busting sprint down the grassy slopes to the visitor centre.
After seizing the opportunity to use a proper toilet for the first time in three days, we followed the bridleway up and back over towards Satterthwaite for Stage 8, on a section of trail known as Deerhunter that was used in the last PMBA Enduro at Grizedale. Whereas back in October it had been like riding down a stream, now the rocky chute was bone dry and extremely loose, so it was a case of picking a line and holding on for dear life while you bounced down like a pinball. Having done a lot of riding in the Lake District, I’m no stranger to loose, rocky descents, so I absolutely loved it, but it was definitely a wild ride.
With the end in sight, we dropped back over to Graythwaite for the final two stages. After pushing up to the top of Stage 9, we had another long wait for the marshals to arrive. By now the wind had really picked up, so rather than enjoy the stunning views over Windermere, we sought shelter behind the huge rocks and tried to keep warm.
Stage 9 was another toughie from last year that had instilled the same fear in me then as Stage 5 had this time round. However, compared to Stage 5 it didn’t seem that bad at all now, particularly as they’d put a chicken line in on what had come to be known as “Carnage Corner”. Although the series of steep, tight bends were nothing worse than parts of Stage 5, and I had actually got down it ok in last year’s race, it had become a bit of a mental thing for me, so I decided to “play it safe” by taking the, still fairly tricky, chicken line. Sadly, despite having ridden it fine in practice, when it came to my race run, I wobbled turning into the drop and ended up wrapped around a tree. Reeling from the irony of having crashed on the chicken line, I opted for the A line on the next difficult section and had no problem at all. Moral of the story; don’t bottle it!
With only one stage left to go, the end was well and truly in sight, but by no means was it going to be an easy cruise to the finish. Stage 10 was one of the most physical with some nadgery little climbs and a brutal hike-a-bike just before the home straight. I had visions of staggering up the climb, but miraculously I still had enough left in the tank to muster a little trot, at least initially.
The final hurdle was sending it off one of the three big crowd-pleaser drops into the arena. Having already bottomed out my suspension on the mid-sized drop in practice, I’d ruled out hitting the huge one, but with the gusts of wind now very strong, I was even contemplating reneging on my new motto and just sticking to the smaller one, even though I’d never actually tried it. Fortunately the decision was taken out of my hands, as the two bigger drops had been closed due to the wind, which was probably no bad thing given the number of victims they’d already claimed.
Seven-and-a-half hours, forty four kilometers, five thousand six hundred feet, and ten tough stages after we’d set off, it felt amazing to fly off that drop and sprint to the finish line, with my name being blasted over the loud speaker to the gathered crowd. By that point, I was just delighted to get round in one piece, but it was even better to discover that I’d come second overall in my category.
Even a couple of weeks later, I’m still buzzing, The weather, atmosphere, and superb course all made for a cracking weekend, and it felt great to race alongside the best enduro riders in the country, even if T-Mo, Katy and Bex all left me for dust on the trails. However, the best feeling of all was conquering my fears and riding some of the UK’s toughest mountain bike trails like I might have known what I was doing.
Even a couple of weeks later, I’m still buzzing, The weather, atmosphere, and superb course all made for a cracking weekend, and it felt great to race on some of the UK’s toughest mountain bike trails alongside the best enduro riders in the country, even if T-Mo, Katy and Bex all left me for dust!
Massive thanks, as always, to all the marshals and medics, without whom these races couldn’t happen, and to Kev and Mike for organising an absolute stormer of an event.