By the time it got to 3pm and we still hadn’t had a call from the garage to say that the van was sorted, I was starting to get a sinking feeling of déjà vu. The events leading up to last year’s PMBA Enduro at Kirroughtree were verging on farcical, and it was starting look like this year might be heading the same way.
When the spring of the shock absorber clunked to the ground minutes after eventually setting off, I started to resign myself to the fact that we probably weren’t going to make it at all. However, after a slightly bumpy journey, we eventually arrived at Kirroughtree around 8pm. It was a glorious evening, and with the sun still high in the sky, we decided we still had time to squeeze in a quick recce of a couple of the stages.
Dipping into Stage 1 around a third of the way down didn’t provide the gentle warm up I’d hoped for, and instead saw us slipping and sliding down a very muddy descent through the trees.
On the way to find Stage 2 we encountered the KS drop half way down Stage 3, so clambered up to have a quick go of that before continuing on. After a ridiculously muddy and wet transition, we arrived at the top of Stage 2 to discover yet another slippery mud chute adorned with plenty of even slippier exposed roots. With a couple of drops, a big rooty step-up and tight, steep chute thrown into the mix, it was quite a tricky stage that I had a feeling wasn’t going to be pretty on race day.
By the time we got back to the van it was around 10pm and we were more than ready for our much-later-than-planned BBQ. Unfortunately it took about an hour to get any heat in the coals, by which time we were wishing we’d just brought some beans instead. Taking race preparations seriously as ever, we devoured our barely cooked sausages and chicken kebabs at 1am and hit the sack.
Surfacing a little later than planned the next morning, but with guts intact, we registered, then set off for a proper practice of the stages. Our first discovery was that Stage 1 started with a long undulating pedally section that certainly provided the warm up that I’d wanted; so much so that I was exhausted by the time I even got to the steep muddy section.
However, it was Stage 3 that was the real killer thanks to its length, even more pedaling, and some tricky features to interrupt your flow. The most notable of these was the KS drop out of the forest, and into a ditch in the fireroad, but even more challenging, was a fireroad sprint further down that culminated with a big step-up back into the forest, which drained the energy reserves further still.
Stage 4 was a bit more straightforward, and after starting on some natural off-piste stuff through the trees, it joined a section of trail centre descent that I recognised from last year’s race.
Stage 5 was a different story, consisting of steep, natural trails that were reminiscent of the ones built for the PMBA enduro races at Graythwaite. It was great fun, although I was definitely on the edge in places.
It was a bit of a mad dash to get round all the stages on the 13 mile loop, and by the time we got back to base, the first waves of riders we already setting off on their race laps. Fortunately we did have time for a short rest and some lunch before our start time.
Unfortunately it wasn’t quite long enough to revive my weary legs and they were already starting to feel it after the top section of Stage 1 on my race lap. After a brief, inadvertent “rest” in the mud, I pulled myself together and finished the stage with a bit more style.
Although we hadn’t practiced Stage 2 that morning, I remembered most of the lines through the mud that I’d chosen on the previous evening’s recce. Despite this, I still managed to make a bit of a meal of some bits, particularly the step up, which had me off my bike, desperately trying to scramble up the slippery slope. That it turned out to be my best stage probably doesn’t say much for my overall race, but I clearly wasn’t the only one not to get a clean run.
Fortunately I fared a bit better on the step up on Stage 3 although it did turn my legs to jelly for the rest of the stage. Although not particularly technical, Stage 4 was even more of a pedal fest, which left me surprisingly thankful that the fifth and final stage was more gravity orientated.
Stage 5 was much more of a test for the arms than the legs as I held on for dear life down the steep descent. Despite being temporarily blinded half way down by a blob of mud to the eye, I managed to hold it together, until the sharp turn into the final chute where I decided I could no longer wing it with partial vision and had to pause to wipe away the offending detritus. Cursing myself for not having worn goggles, I eventually took the plunge toward the finish line, spurred on by shouts from the crowd at the bottom who must have wondered what the hell I was doing.
As always, it felt great to finish, and, despite feeling that I hadn’t had a great race, I was delighted to find out that I’d come third in my category, and fourth woman overall.
The pedally nature of parts of the course combined with some muddy, steep and technical sections made for a surprisingly challenging race, particularly for someone whose legs were shot from reaping the benefits of our recent move to the Lake District.
Tired suspension (both mine and the van’s) aside, it was another fantastic event that was enhanced further still by the presence of that oh-so-elusive Scottish sunshine. As ever, thanks to everyone to helped to make it happen and big up to everyone who took part, especially those who made it onto the top step. See you at Gnar!
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