Reluctant Downhiller in action

Reluctant Downhiller in action

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Filling in the Blank Months - A venture into Enduro

I'm back!!!!! 

Here's a quick update of what's been going on at Reluctant HQ.  In June I had an operation which wiped out most of my summer.  The first week of August I was given the OK to ride my bike, good thing as 14 days later I was off for a 2 week trip to Morzine (I didn't lie to the doctors but I did neglect to mention the type of riding I would be doing) I had a great time but struggled on the bike.  Some DH tracks were ok but as soon as anything technical appeared I was stuck, having lost my core muscles meant I couldn't balance or adjust my weight so my holiday was limited to Blue and red trails but I had a great time and was touched when Jill at Riders Refuge presented us with our PDS goodie bags which she'd collected and kept for us.

After returning from Morzine it was very apparent that I need to regain the fitness and muscle that I'd lost so I was relegated to my trail bike.  Off the bike I was allowed to start Insanity training again which hurt but really helped and after just 4 weeks of Insanity I was able to stand on 1 leg and suck my tummy in a bit.

Jed also needed some TLC after Morzine, my lack of physical ability meant I relied on my bikes suspension more than normal and I'd killed my brakes.  Plush Hill Cycles came to the rescue, with Jed, fixing his broken spokes, servicing him and price matching CRC on a new set of Zee brakes.

October brought a tough personal period for me with the Organisation I worked for closing, this was mentally hard and a very bruising experience, leaving our clients without access to service and me without a job.  I was also in charge of the closure, which was a massive amount of work.

Due to everything that happened I decided to miss the Welsh Champs, I wasn't mentally or physically in the right place to race DH and decided to wait for the Mini DH races at FOD to return to competition.  However I wanted a fitness target so entered the Mini Enduro again at the Forest of Dean.

Mini Enduro

So I finished work on the Friday, had Saturday to recover (had worked a 55 hour week) before heading to FOD for the enduro.  My fitness was nowhere near up to the event but I was only doing it for a laugh with Louise (who talked me into doing the race).  The week before the event had been bone dry but Sunday night had brought rain and it continued to shower on an off during the day.  We walked stage 1&4 but I only managed a practice run down stage 3, and a slide down stage 2 both of which suffered from deep mud that was only going to get worse.  Come race time and due to the weather the event was cut down to 3 stages, this was a relief to me and my lack of fitness. Having never done an Enduro before I didn't know what to expect, Enduro riders are definitely a different breed to Downhillers, with Enduro riders taking the event very seriously.  I was relieved that the ladies group still had the same camaraderie that I have become accustom to at DH races.

Stage 1
This had a long pedally bit at the top through mud,  on this bit I caught up a chatted to 2 other women in my class.  My DH racing experience paying off rather than any skills.  The stage had a horrible off camber slime fest part in the middle,there was NO grip and I opted to get off the bike and stay as high as possible, it took me ages to clear this part.  After this the track dived down on a steep section through spindly trees.  I first tired this off the bike as the mud was 6inches deep but I soon realised that the best way was to sit on the bike using my legs as outriggers to brake and steer.  As I exited the bottom I was knackered.

Stage 2 
I knew this stage was going to be a nightmare, in practice this morning it was bad so after 300 plus riders had raced through it, I was dreading what condition it was in.  I arrived at the top dead on my time and after a quick rest started off down the stage.  The top section was again pedally and muddy, but I was able to stay on the bike and attack it, as I dropped off onto the forestry road I was cheered by the friendly marshals.  There was a quick pedal down the forestry road before dropping down the muddiest section of the day, I slid my way down but even my outrigger technique didn't work on this part and I soon came off the bike and given I could barely stand up in the mud I ended up pushing the last few meters of the mudfest dropping onto a more established track to continues the stage. without a hitch but very slowly.

Slog to Stage 3
So after trudging through the deep mud on stage 2 I was knackered but there was no time to rest I had to get back up the top for stage 3.  I pushed up the steep track, jumping on my bike to make up the time when it levelled out.  On the pedally bit across the top I met up with other riders and rode to the start with them.  I was cold, wet, muddy and rapidly getting exhausted.  So glad to get to the top and have a few minutes to rest.

Stage 3 
I'd been dreading this stage, my practice run in the morning hadn't gone well and with the track more cut up I was nervous and considered pulling out.  however my friends would be at the end waiting for me and I would be letting them down as well as myself if I failed to start, I just needed to get down.

I started at the back and enjoyed the top half of stage 3, as I was cold the effort needed to plow through the mud warmed me up and as I couldn't see the wet roots under all the mud I just kept plugging on.  I caught up with one lady earlier on and passed her, just before the hardest part of the stage I caught up with another lady and we rode to the technical part together.  Given the mud and track condition I opted to slid down this section on my bum with my bike in hand.  It was obvious from the marks in the mud that many had fallen off here so as I only had a matter of meters to the end I played it safe, getting down in relative ease.  I called to the other ladies who had gathered that I was down safe and give them encouragement as they made their way down.  As soon as the first one got safely down I wished them well and continued on the stage, singing to myself as I went, soon the woods opened out and I was pointing the bike down to the finish to cheers from my friend and Darrel.  As I whooshed out of the woods I was so pleased I'd not wimped out.

So I survived an Enduro, I'd not say they are my kind of thing.  Firstly the riders are so serious about the competition, more like XC riders that DH.  However I really enjoyed the challenge, especially given the weather conditions and mud.  I like to try new things and I'd probably do one again as the fitness aspect was good to make me focus on more than technical ability, the event also reminded me of what a great bike my Yeti is and how much my riding has progressed since I took up DH.

So now I was back to racing it was time for me to get back to racing DH.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Reluctantly not riding!

Well to cut a long story short, I've not been riding since my last Time Trial on the 29th May, which I didn't finish!

What I though was a stomach bug that plagued me the week before the Aberystwyth came back with a vengeance, what followed was a 2 week nightmare that resulted on the 10th June to me being admitted to hospital crying in pain and the next day operated on to remove a rather large growth in my abdomen.  So strictly no riding for 6 weeks, and a load of drugs.  I'm now 4 weeks post operation and slowly recovering, though not as fast as I'd like.

So what does an active person do when they are told to do nothing.

Well on Saturday I accompanied Darrel to attend a Dean Trail Volunteers (DTV) Dig Day.  We'd been intending to help out at a dig day for over a year, but our schedule and races tended to clash so we'd never made it.  However Darrel had brought a new frame of one of the guys and with me laid up there was no missing this one.

I was going in a supervisory capacity, as unable to do much to help.  So here's what happens at a dig day.

Meeting time is a relaxed 9-9:30 in front of the cafe, Alan Grist Chairman of the DTV was there as we pulled up and introduced us to the other guys digging.  After a relaxed chat, it was time to head into the woods.

The plan was to work on a skills section of the free-miners trail, this section would have balance beams and skinnys on it with trail linking the obstacles together. Picking up our tools we were given brief instruction on how to dig the trail and then let loose.  Darrel worked one way with another Alan digging in the opposite direction.  Me, I watched for a bit but not being one to sit still I helped with what little I could do and took pictures.  The atmosphere was cheerful, and the more experienced diggers gave tips and as well as the physical work there was a healthy banter.

We talked about the boar and my disappointment that I've never seen one in the flesh, of course there was bike talk, and we even stopped to watch the bikers riding the wooden drops to the side of us.  The banter kept coming ad the trail grew, and at last it was ready for DTV Alan to start adding some rocks from one of the pits in the forest to form the base of the new track.

Those that know me will know that Darrel is a plumber and used to manual work, so it was odd to see him sweating as he dug away, it wasn't easy and was physical but a great work out for those look for an alternative to a gym session.

Once the trail was dug the soil needed to be removed from the side of the track as the Boar have a habit of refilling the trails if topsoil is left to the side :) As Darrel's strength started to fade, Alan came over to let us know it was finish time.  the 2.5 hours had flown by and looking back I was impressed at how much track had been dug.  Digging it however is only the start, it would then need filling with rock, gravel added onto the top and then 'whacker plated' down.  All this work is done by hand!

As we packed up tools and headed back to the centre for a well earned cuppa, I looked back over what the small group had done and felt a massive sense of achievement.

After a drink and chat at the centre, Darrel went off to ride and I placed myself at the edge of the DH tracks to watch.  As I walked up I heard a couple of guys on AM bikes moaning at the state of the bottom of one of the trails, I bit my lip as I walked past (normally I would of said something but still feel vulnerable).  If the 2 guys had come to help this morning the difference those extra hand would of made would of been finishing the whole section and getting it filled with rocks. OK the dig this morning wasn't on the DH tracks, but the sooner the sections on the Freeminers are finished the soon the guys can start work on the DH trails.

The dig day was really good fun, we were made to feel welcome and no-one moaned about me not being able to do much.  It truly is a case of any little help you can offer will be gratefully accepted.  In the future, before you go and pay for a gym session why not save the pennies and pop down to your nearest trail dig day.  You'll learn a new respect for the trails you ride, you'll appreciate the work that goes into developing and maintaining them and you'll have a great workout.

With the DTV volunteering doesn't come without it's perks, anyone who digs on the day will get a free drink at the centre, if you attend 10 dig days you will get a free parking pass for the year.  By helping out you get to talk to the people designing the trails and give your input into the developments of the centre.  You also get to meet new people and make new friends.

I'm hoping to be attending the next dig day, why don't you give it a try, miss a mornings ride in return to build trails that last years.

So if you are inspired to give Trail Digging a go the next Forest of Dean dig day (which just happens to be DH trail maintenance) is on the 19th July at 9am

The DTV can also be found on facebook here

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Conquering a Cliff

Well, what a weekend I've just had, it started badly with an tummy bug all the week before meaning I missed out on Zumba and Insanity all in the hope I'd be fit and healthy to ride the Conquer the Cliff DH race.

I'd been looking forward to this race for ages, I'd wanted to do it last year but it clashed with the Diva weekend.  So when I saw that it was being run again this year I planned my weekend around going.

Friday saw the arrival of Hannah who was staying over as Aberystwyth is only an hours drive from our home.  Her arrival triggered the reality of racing and we sat eating tea talking bikes and races.  The weather forecast was abysmal, enough to make fellow Diva Emma question coming, however we nagged her Friday night and she conceded that if she didn't come she'd regret it.

Saturday morning was an early start, with the gear loaded in the van we headed out to the west coast of Wales, surprisingly arriving to a blue sky over Aber.  Signing on Hannah and I collected our numbers and headed up  the track, at the bottom it was fine, a few steps on a relatively simple gravel path.  However this changed further up and the only thought going through my mind was 'how many steps'  I tried to keep calm and walked all the way up to the top, hoping the steps would look better when approached downhill.  Walking the track downhill didn't really change the steps, and I also noticed the wooden bridges were slippy with damp.  I got to the bottom wishing I'd practised riding steps, the whole course was slightly alien to me, being totally man made for walking, flat corners and changes in surface.

Now the reason I'd entered this race was 2 part, a) it's a race and relatively local b) the uplift is on a funicular railway.

The train is clearly not designed with the Downhiller in mind, and could only be described as Jaunty, ( in other words old fashioned and slow). I found myself wondering how many practice runs we'd get in before racing with the uplift speeds and some people opted to push up the hill.  At the top I rolled down the first section before the bridges, pushing back up to warm up on the relatively easy bit before hitting the bulk of the steps.  My first run down with the intention of hitting the steps found me halted as a rider had come down on the first bridge hitting the stone wall.  I pushed back up again hoping to get a clear run, this time I made it to the bridge, the slippy surface was off putting and I panicked at the narrow steps with a stone wall to the right and hand rail to the left, with a bend, it was all too much for my nerve so I jumped off and ran down them, hopping back on continue.  The 2nd bridge was much grippier and the steps dead straight so gritting my teeth I rolled off them, surprised at the anti climax that was riding steps.  I headed down feeling much happier and confidently rolled the final run of steps to the finish.  I did 3 more runs down, but due to the slippy bridge ( I got held up on every run as some-one had gone down on the bridge) and the curve in the steps I just couldn't bring myself to ride them.  My race tactic was to hop off and run them, however Lindsay wasn't impressed by this plan so it was up again on the train to follow her down.  This run the organisers had nailed some carpet to the bridge to give much needed grip and with Lindsay in front, a whole heap of expletives I went for it.  Lindsay, not realising I'd tagged right onto her rear wheel stopped to check I was OK as I bumped into her, to a cheer from the medics who had watched me struggle.  I thanked Lindsay, happy that now I could clear the whole track we headed down to wait for our race runs.

Getting used to the steps at the finish

By the time my first race run came around the weather had properly changed to a steady drizzle, in normal reluctant DH fashion I set off last of the ladies.  I happily hit all my lines, heading down the track, up the top I stuffed up a tight flat turn, as I came into the dreaded steps.  The Jedi bumped happily over the uneven steps prior to the bridge and I just kept my heels down and weight over the back letting the suspension do it's job, however I was over zealous in my eagerness not to brake on the slippy bridge and pretty much brought the bike to a halt on the last step.  As I pootled over the steps I pushed my heels down, gritted my teeth and sent the bike over the first steps, once on there was no going back as the Jedi happily hopped down the steps, again the Medics and Marshall cheered encouragement to me.  I was off over the second bridge before I knew it, relieved I was over the worst part and enjoying the ride down to the finish.  The track had been loosened by all the riders and my lack of experience on flat turns and gravel ensured that my time was slow but I had a great time, the atmosphere at the bottom was electric despite the rain and I was beaming as I crossed the finish line.  I was so happy I didn't even catch my time.

So after a chill watching the Elite racers and hard tails it was back up on the train to get ready for the 2nd run.

Being up the top of the hill felt like a different world compared to the finish area, up the top it was quiet with gulls calling, the odd spectator and the beeps counting down the riders as one by one they headed down.  As our turn came round I again opted to run last, not wanting to hold the other ladies up, I also got to ride down behind World Cup Rider Manon Carpenter.  After a short red flag, following a rather horrible looking over the bars off by Hazel it was my turn to go.  Manon shot off after her beeps and I was in the 20s count down.  I left the start in the drizzel taking the lower drop off the well as before but keeping the bike more balanced as I headed down, letting off the brakes on the loose gravel a bit too much as again I stuffed up the tight turn.  Trying to make up for lost time I let the bike go down the first steps before the bridge, loving how the Jedi seemed to relish these drops.  At the bridge I was forced to brake as the carpet had wrinkled up exposing the very slippy wood under.  I heard the commentator say Manon had finished, amazed at the speed she'd got down in.  Again I lost seconds but putting my mistakes behind me I attached the 2nd bridge which I really enjoyed riding, putting my heels down and weight back I pushed the bike out as it came over the top step, to which the bike responded by floating down the steps, I barely felt the wheels touch the concrete.   Heading down the gravel path I took in the amazing view below me, the Music getting louder as I came down the hill, again I stuffed up the tight flat turns, hitting the last row of steps I let go of the brakes totally trusting the bike to do it's job, turning to the finish line I stamped on the pedals loving the run and glad to be back after my off at my last DH race.

I loved riding the 2nd Bridge Steps

The race was a great event, despite the weather people had come out to watch us ride down the Constitution Hill Path in force.  I got to meet 2 world cup riders, Matt Simmonds (who kindly helped me with getting my bike on and off the train) and raced against Manon Carpenter who was amazing to see in action.  Lindsay took a well deserved 3rd place, Hazel despite her off in her second race run maintained her 2nd place with Manon taking top honours.

I got to ride the the railway up the hill, and act like a wild teenager (making up for a non misspent youth) riding down footpaths and jumping steps.  I will be back next year, but have some practising on gravel, flat turns and steps as homework from this race.

So, my next adventure was to be a return to Taff Buggy, sadly this race was cancelled.  So now it's fitness training as in a few weeks we head to MTB heaven, Morzine for the Passporte event.

Doing it with friends

For a change I'm not blogging off the sofa, instead I'm sat in the lovely setting that is Coed Y Brenin woods. Having spent all weekend driving me around and supporting me, Darrel's gone off to ride leaving me to write my blog and possibly play on the blue trails.

I'm tired rather than sore, oh and I'm really sun burnt with killer panda eyes from my sunnies.

So this weekend I tried something different, I raced 4x!

After last weekends disappointment I was really looking forward to this weekend. I needed to get back on my bike and simply have fun, which is how the weekend worked out.

I will admit, I didn't know what I'd fully let myself in for, Darrel had done a 4x race when we first started going out but it was very much a local race. My first 4x race was to be the 2nd round of the Schwalbe British 4x Series, nothing like jumping in at the deep end. Luckily my fellow Fix Distribution/Loeka rider Clare Curtis is a 4x rider and promised to show me and the other first timers the ropes, she even arranged for one of the elite riders to do some coaching on Saturday afternoon.

1pm Saturday, Darrel and I pulled up at Afan. The track was already taped and a few riders were heading down the course. After an excited reunion with Clare, her partner Jo and Sheena, Darrel and I went to walk the track. I was pleasantly surprised, unlike DH the track isn't out to kill you.

After last weekends crash I didn't know how I'd feel on a track, so for my first run I took the Jedi, and found after only the first couple  of sections that the DH bike was total overkill on the track, though the rocky section was lovely and smooth :)  I also discovered I'd broke my rear shifter in last weeks off so the lack of gears totally ruled the DH bike out.  Stupidly I was nervous about riding the Yeti, not because of ability, but because there were a lot of fast riders on Yeti 4x bikes and my XS ASR5 with saddle down looked too much like it belonged.  And in fairness after a twiddle on the suspension set up, the little trail bike felt very much at home on the 4x track.  After a few runs down I was starting to feel relaxed and had definitely got over my bad weekend, this was helped by the fact that 4x is very much more relaxed than DH racing.

Me and Sheena watching practice
At around 4pm we were met by our elite rider for a coaching session, working our way down the track being told about technique and line choice.  Again this was a really informal and fun session, with us looking at hitting lines through the rock garden and trying to pump the bike to keep speed up.  After this session came my 4x fear, the dreaded gate.  Clare took me up the top and we watched a few riders set off, and I noticed the gate was different to I expected with it falling away from the riders (my big fear was it being like the MX gates which fall towards the riders).  I was nervous for my first go, and clambering up on to the start block was awkward, my short legs and unstable ankle (old injury) not helping.  Once up I lined the bike up and opted for the 1 foot down start, the disembodied voice started and then BANG, the gate fell and off I went, the extra height of the gate giving a little more speed into the first lumps.  Clare was brill, she insisted I did a couple of practices before I headed home which I was grateful for, as I realised I was better not trying to clip in on the SPD until the first corner.  So it was home for some tea and sleep before race morning.

Sunday May the 4TH - Star Wars day
OK, owning a bike called a Jedi, I was sad that he was so out of place on the 4x track, but Sunday saw us at Afan Yeti unloaded and waiting to roll.

I went with Abigail to warm up in the small bike park at Afan and once feeling relaxed on the bike headed over with the others for some gate practise.  I tried a few different lines down, as with 3 other people on the track I didn't know where I would be able to ride come race time.  By now the sun was out and the party atmosphere had properly kicked in as race time approached.

For those like me not familur to 4x, it runs in Motos (heats) where you are randomly drawn against other riders in your class, so in theory you will ride against the different riders.  We got to ride 3 motos and the results from these would determine whether you'd made it into the finals.
My first Moto
My first moto was the scariest, still unsure about how I'd cope with 3 other people all trying to hit the fastest line, I didn't worry too much as I knew I'd be slower than the regulars so hoped that I'd get good clear runs down being at the back.  On my first moto, the other riders were gone in a flash, however as I approached the rock garden my line was blocked by a rider down, I switched happily onto another line and passed the rider, pedalling to make up lost time and crossing the finish in 2nd.  The motos run fast and it was straight back up to the top to wait for the next one, with only 30min max until it was back on the bike to do it all again, this time I was up against 3 seasoned 4x'r and the difference out of the gate was shocking, I pedalled and did my best to keep up, trying to keep the last rider in sight which I kind of managed and hit my line through the rock garden, loving the lower section.  Again it was a quick return to the top for my last moto, This time I had Sheena in my group, and as a fellow 1st timer I was determined to try and keep with her.  In practice I knew she had the edge on the top bit of track, which I was struggling to keep speed on.  As the gate dropped we were off, I pedalled and kept focused on Sheena, she was pulling away up the top as I expected and as we came to the rock garden I was able to maintain the distance between us, and holding it until the finish.  My moto results were 2nd, 3rd (only 3 in that moto) and 4th I didn't get through to the finals but was happy, I'd not come off, I'd ridden confidently and had fun.  I was also relieved not to have made it through as my bruises from the previous week were starting to ache by the end of my 3rd moto.

My first 4x Race

So what did I think of 4x;
If you are thinking about giving it a go, don't think do it.
Despite DH & 4x being classed as gravity events, that is the only thing in common and if I'd tried 4x before DH I'd probably have never taken up DH.  The tracks aren't as technical and there is a lot more pedalling needed, to me 4x was all about maintaining speed.

The gate isn't scary, it makes a lot of noise and it was hard to get on, but other than that it was fine.

The people are lovely, all the 4x girls were happy to share their knowledge with me and the other first timers.

It's very relaxed, although the motos came around fast, the whole atmosphere was chilled and fun.

Chilling in-between Motos
The rest of the racing
I have to put a comment on this blog about the racing.

Firstly my team mate, fellow Loeka lady Clare.  Clare was brill, she gave up some of her practice time to ensure that all us first timers had fun and to helped us out if needed.  She happily answered any queries we'd have over the racing.  Seeing Clare in her natural habitat was great, and her love for 4x is infectious.  But the cherry on the cake was she came 4 overall making it through to the A final.  I was so pleased for her and it was great to share in her joy.

Katy Curd - Katy also has to have a mention, Katy has been an inspiration to me and such a support in my attempts at DH.  Katy was also racing at Afan, but as she holds the Pro Tour title she was allowed to ride against the guys.  It was great to see her holding her own against the fellas, and she too made it into the A final, taking 3rd overall in the senior mens class.  

It was a great weekend and just what I needed after such a hard off the weekend before, so I've got over my crash, got a few bits to fix on the Jedi and then in 2 weeks I'm trying my hand at my first Urban'ish DH race, the Aberystwyth Cycle Festival Conquer the Cliff DH Race.

Team Loeka / Fix Distribution 

Monday 28 April 2014

Bad Day at the Reluctant HQ

I'm writing this blog with a heavy heart and one bruised body.

After just over 2 absolutely amazing months on the new DH bike, I was feeling really confident.  However the week after Easter was a stressful one at work and come the weekend I really wasn't feeling like riding my bike.  But I'd made the commitment to race the Taff Buggy Series and that was what I was going to do but my heart wasn't in it.  I should have followed my gut feeling.

Saturday morning came and I really didn't feel right, none of the pre-race excitement was there, we took a leisurely drive to Taff Buggy and met with Emma, who also lacked the normal enthusiasm.  So after a track walk we signed on and got on the bikes.  I simply couldn't ride, I was tense, stiff and was totally lacking the mojo to push myself.  My first run down saw me going round most of the Obstacles  and not warming up or settling.  My 2nd was mildly better but still a long way off being able to race.

So after a bite to eat I decided to put my body armour on in the hope that it would boost my confidence and put me in a 'this is serious' frame of mind.  It helped, I was clearing all the sections in some form or other, I just had the rock garden to ride.

Last year this man-made rock garden took me all day to clear but I'd managed it and raced it.  So after walking through it a couple of times to know where to put my wheels I got on Jed. I rode confidently onto the rocks, hitting my first and second markers perfectly to give me a clear run through, then it all went a bit odd, I realised early that I was too far forward and pushed off the bars to get my weight back but it was too late I was passed the point of no return and I think in trying to push my weight back I'd also pushed the bike into a worse place and stalled it.  I was going down, I spied an area of ground without rocks to land and with all my strength directed my body there.  Then all I remember was a cracking noise and feeling ground impact with my face, then Jed landing on my back, bouncing off my body and landing somewhere in front of me.  I expected to pass out, I waited for the blackness to drift over me but it didn't happen and somehow I was sitting up with Darrel running over to me, in my daze I stood up and stumbled off the track sitting down the other side of the tape pulling my broken lid off my head as it felt incredibly tight, like it was pushing my head in.  My nose hurt and I was waiting for it to start bleeding.  Darrel was fetching my bike and my first concern was that Jed was OK, I tried to stand up to see for myself and as I instinctively went to push off my hands, I realised I couldn't feel 2 fingers on my left and a stab of pain shot up my arm.  I remover my glove to see 2 really nasty looking purple marks and not much in the way of knuckle, it didn't hurt it was totally numb.  I didn't want to hang round to long, I knew before long stuff would start to hurt and I wanted to ride my bike down to get the lift up.  People stopped to ask if I was OK, I just wanted to get down before my body realised what I'd done to it.  Emma came along to see how I was getting on and as she came over realised something was wrong, looking at my hand she gave the excellent advise of removing my wedding ring off my now looking more sore fingers.  I limped down, on the last mildly technical bit I had to push as the vibrations through the bars were getting more uncomfortable by the minute.

Getting back up to the top, I met the guys from MIJ and the paramedics, who suggested visiting A&E.  I handed back my number and after a quick loading of bikes said fairwell to Taff Buggy and headed to Prince Charles Hospital.  I have got to say everyone there was lovely, the nurses looked at my hand and sucked in breath especially as I said I'm sure it's not broken.  My gut feeling was it wasn't, I've broken bones and I know there is generally a specific pain when that happens.  After a short wait the X-rays were back and Gayles Gut 1 - Nurses 0.

YIPEEEEEE  No broken bones, just a very bruised and sore Me!  After some pain meds, and a quick chat to the nurses I was on my way home.  However I knew in my heart that racing was a no go.  Sunday morning had me wide awake at 6am, my mind had at last turned on to race mode, but I was in no state to race, I knew it was the right decision but I wasn't happy about it.

Sunday morning was horrible, I was feeling bruised, could tell I had slight concussion, had a headache and I was down.  I got up and pottered around the flat, retrieved my lid from the Van to assess the damage and apologised to Jed for letting him down.  I felt that my whole racing plan for 2014 was up in the air, I'd really set my heart on the Taff Buggy series and now I didn't know if I'd ever have the courage to race there, all because of one 5 meter section of rock garden.  After a while I gave up and crawled back into bed for a cuddle with Darrel and some much needed recovery sleep.

Late morning I awoke, still feeling like crap, but knowing I'd made the right choice not to race.  Friends messaged me and texted me which really cheered me up.  It was decided that my lid would need to be replaced so I can now justify buying a new one to match Jed (Black and Red) and with all the lovely kind words I was feeling more positive.

The problem is, since I've had Jed I've had the most amazing time, I'm so much more confident and I love riding the bike.  Last weekends uplift saw me happily chasing down after my friends at FOD, and I really felt like I belonged.  I was on top of the world and felt I could ride anything, but when your on the top the only way is down and that's what happened!  I've had 2 months of bliss, me and Jed were bound to have a disagreement at some point, and now we have the fun of making up.  I'm hoping to get to Bike Park Wales as they have several rock gardens to practice on, and I'm already looking forward.  Next weekend will see me strapped up and trying 4x for the first ever time,  Thursday I've got another hour of hell in the form of a time trial.

Another odd off shoot from all this this is the bruises forming all over my body, the colours are amazing, angry deep blues, sore looking pinks and reds, the odd greenie hues and then my favorite, the purple that seem to suggest that the bruise goes deep into my flesh.  My knuckle is swollen, with a pale green/purple hint and 2 red marks that give a menacing hint of something painful lurks beneath.  Through out Sunday they appeared rising like some bizarre deep sea creatures floating to the surface.  There will be no bikini or short skirt wearing from me for the next few weeks until they disappear.  But with each new bruise Darrel is being sweet and loving, so I'm lapping up the affection.  OK I failed, but I failed trying and I did give it a good go.

So it's Monday PM and I'm miles happier.  I was due a bad day and although yesterday felt like a black hole is really wasn't all that bad, just felt it at the time.  DH is a risk sport, injuries are part and parcel.

Oh, and hi to the guy on the Kona I met on saturday who reads my blog, it was lovely meeting you :)

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Dipping my toe in the Deep End

Another Monday, another blog to write while sitting on the sofa under my blanket nursing sore legs.

This is getting to be an all to familiar scenario, the reason for this weeks blog was the opening round of the Pearce Cycles DH series at Hopton.  I'd only entered the 1 race as these races are a level up from the races I'd previously done and I didn't know how I'd cope.

Early signs were that I wasn't going to cope very well, the weekend before the race I found the nerves gripping as I took my bike for some brake pads at the excellent Plush Hill Cycles in Church Stretton.  While chatting to Kate about the impending race, I could feel my stomach tighten.  As the week progressed my sleep got more sporadic and after a nightmare week in work I felt far from prepared for the weekend ahead.

Friday morning saw me resort to 'comfort cooking' some people comfort eat, I comfort cook, which wasn't too bad as I had Lindsay and James camping at ours for the weekend and also bribed my parents into looking after my horse with a home made Lasagne.
Lasagne for all!!!! 

Friday evening guests had arrived and we headed to Hopton for a track walk.  My first reactions were ARRRR at a small diversion at the bottom, but other than that I was pretty happy.  My biggest fear was fitness, this track is a lot longer than any of the Forest of Dean mini DH tracks, not only did I have to do 2 race runs but also be fit enough to practice.

Saturday arrived with a cloudy sky and cold wind but dry, as we pulled up to the race HQ.  Meeting up with our normal DH crew of Morris, Hannah and Hannah (yep 2 Hannah's) I signed on, and walked up the hill with Lindsay to check out the diversion bit, watching a couple of riders negotiate it somewhat uncomfortably.  It was time to get on my bike for my first run down.  Darrel agreed to ride down with me as we waited for a gap in the uplifts to give me as clear run as possible, this never happened Pearce uplift service is very efficient and I just had to go for it.  Warning the guys behind to give me space I was on track.  I missed all my lines, took some I'd never noticed, swore a lot and stopped where I could to let faster riders passed.  Darrel waited for me before the diversion bit to lead me down it, and I was off.  Now normally I'm really bad at new bits, I tend to slam on the brakes and have to build confidence up to ride them (this normally involves watching loads of people ride the section and several attempts to get the courage to go down it) however I trusted my ability and I went for it, as the bike lurched over the braking bumps I survived and headed down the lower part of the track over the jumps feeling strangely happy to have cleared the track on my first attempt.  The rest of the day saw me slowly take runs down trying to get the confidence to go faster, but being unsettled by the massively faster riders who repeatedly got stuck behind me (all were really nice and thanked me for letting them pass), I was looking forward to my race runs and having the track to myself.

As the day came to an end I decided to try an alternative line down the track, maybe trying a new line on tired legs wasn't the best of ideas, it resulted in me coming off so determined to end on a positive note as soon as clear I pushed up and rode my original line again, coming down cleanly and with a hint of confidence.  I'd survived practice now I just needed to survive 2 race runs.

Practice run 

After a horrible nights sleep, not helped by some neighbours having a fight at 3:30am on the street outside our home, I woke up with a headache and feeling sore.  I told Darrel to go off and practice without me, I was happy to play on the higher sections of the track rather than push my fitness and do a whole practice run, I knew the track and just wanted it to myself.  After 2 runs down the top section, I got red flagged on my 3rd run (where I'd intended to go further down) rather than waiting and wondering what ill fate had hit some-one I skipped onto one of the other DH tracks, rolling down happily without the worry of some-one flying up behind me.  I then pushed back up and waited for my race run, actually wanting my race run.  As the ladies were in the middle of the pack I had plenty of time to watch the other riders negotiate the top rooty section, as my start time drew nearer friends and Darrel arrived up the top and it was time to get ready.  Due to my race nerves, and concern about being caught on track the starting team had kindly allowed me to start at the back of the masters men, therefore giving me a 2 minute gap before the ladies categories started.  So after cheering Darrel off, I was putting my helmet on and pushing onto the start for my first race run, as the beeps dropped I heard the starter call Lindsay up, 2 minutes was not a big enough gap with Lindsay on my heels, inside I screamed as the lights went green and I was off.  As I headed down the track I struggled not to look at the now polished roots on the top section, using the marshal's as a diversion I happily said hi as I rolled passed, stuffing up my lines as I pasted the speed trap, a little shocked to see a guy standing in the trees, I headed down to Simon (My familiar and friendly marshal of GAS racing fame) yelling a welcome to Simon as I headed down the track, I heard people cheering me, I got lost a bit missing my line but I just kept going on as I got to the rock step, I yipee'd as I let the bike go over the edge,  into a tight section, being amazed at how nimble the Jedi is for a DH bike, now relaxed I was starting to have fun, after the forestry road crossing I headed for the jumps, though not confident to let the bike into the air I struggled to keep the Jedi on the ground having to kill speed and getting annoyed with myself over it. The braking bumps in this section had grown massively since yesterday and my now tired legs were on fire.  As I came to the off piste section I hit all my lines and knew I was home at last happy to let go of the brakes as I took the two table tops at the bottom of the track letting Jed take to the air I crossed the finish line, my time was painfully slow 5:05 but I had loved every minute of it and Lindsay hadn't caught me as I cheered her and the other girls over the finish.

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There was a 2 hour gap before the next race run, this wasn't enough time for my legs to recover and I was concerned over whether I could manage another run, but I was 5 seconds off a 5 minute run and really wanted to knock those seconds off.  So back up the top and again behind the guys I was looking forward to trying harder.  My second run was more focused, I concentrated on where I'd missed my lines and cheered and whooped my way down encouraging my exhausted body to push harder, as I passed the rock step I could feel my legs trembling, my thighs were on fire and I knew I was carrying weight on my arms to try and support my legs.  As I crossed the forestry I worried if I had enough in me to carry on, pushing deeper for any energy left in the tank, I was more and more relying on the bikes suspension to get me down, as I came to the now deep braking bumps I gave everything to hold my weight off the front, feeling the bike pitch as I re-joined the original track for a fleeting fraction of a second I thought I was heading over the bars, but the bike did it's job and in seeing the finish line I dug even deeper and stamped on the pedals to cross the finish, to hear the commentator say I'd made my goal, OK not as fast as the other girls but a 5minute run on a long track for me was great, I collapsed on the grass, exhausted, weak and ecstatic.

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The other girls came down, Ami having an unfortunate off on her final run still manage to hold onto her 3rd place.

In all my first foray into a bigger more demanding race was an experience I'll never forget, I loved my final race run and if I'd been fitter I know I could have taken more time off.  I was miles more relaxed and was able to bring the focus and wanting from my last race onto the bigger track.  And to totally top the weekend off I got my first podium, coming 2nd in the Masters Ladies, ok there was only 2 of us in the category but I felt I'd earned it, I gave my all and found strength I didn't know I had to get down that track.

My First Podium for Team Loeka / Fix Distribution 

I have to say a massive thanks to all the Pearce guys, I can fully appreciate why this series sells out in a matter of hours, they run a great event and I will be back next year.  Massive thanks to all the riders who gave me space on the track, and didn't complain.  Humongous thanks to all my friends for their support.

Loeka and Fix Distribution - I was so pleased to get a place on the podium for you guys, Dave of Fix Distribution brought me and the Jedi together and that bike has given me so much confidence in the 9 weeks I've owned it.

On a sad note however my off in practice had my beloved Loeka shorts, that I've owned since my first Morzine trip 3 years ago, get snagged on a branch and torn.  I'm hoping my mum can repair them as they are so comfortable, but given the abuse these shorts have had I'm seriously impressed with the quality of them and they are a credit to Loeka who's gear is always so well made.      

So Easter weekend will find me heading to the Forest of Dean for some uplift fun from Flyup Downhill, then it's back to racing on the 26th / 27th April with the opening round of the MIJ Taff Buggy Series.


Tuesday 1 April 2014

The ending of the begining

So, I did it!  I rode all the rounds of the Naked Racing 661 Mini DH series at the Forest of Dean and I'm alive to tell the tale.

However yesterday marked a massive change in me.. so much so that after the race I had to go for a walk on my own to process everything that had happened over the last 2 days.  A little bit of me had died, I felt numb, I even sat on a tree stump and had a little cry.. emotions had over whelmed me.

So here's why

Saturday came, and after picking up Hannah from Hereford we all happily headed to the Forest, we were meeting up with some of the other girls for our normal Saturday practice and banter.  However once we got to the woods nothing felt right for me, I rode Jed down the track and although he felt great I just didn't seem to warm up or relax.  I popped over to corkscrew with a couple of other girls to try and get riding properly which helped, but the new top section on Ski run caused everyone problems.  I was sure I could run down on my feet faster than how I was riding.  Seeing Hannah have a massive off didn't affect me ( I was more concerned about her) but the fact that loads of riders were coming down on this section just made me feel happier at my own incompetence.
Bruised but still smiling 
After Hannah's off we all decided to head down for a bite to eat and a rest, so Darrel led me down the lower section of Ski run, and this is where it all started to changed for me.  I loved it, the blown out techy part of the track felt sooo good, the bike popped and soaked up the rough like nothing I'd ever ridden before, I felt disappointed as the track smoothed out.

After lunch, I had a practice on the 2 jumps at the bottom of the track as I have a massive hangup on the road crossing jumps there following an off a while back.  Once I was happy there I headed back up to the top to again practice this section and try and get my lines.  Each run up top however found me not getting my lines and after a much needed reality check from Steve one of the Malvern guys I changed to a safer easier line, followed by another smile inducing run down the now fun middle section.

My previous time on Ski run was 2:13, so Saturday night I set the target of 2:10 as normal posting it on facebook, although on a harder top section I felt this was realistic given the new bike and better fitness.

Sunday morning was hard work, an early start made earlier as the clocks changed had Darrel, Hannah and I in the van heading back for race day.  On arrival at the race I headed up to the top to practice leaving Darrel to help Hannah at the van.  I did a first run down slowly but hitting my lines, another run down and although painfully slow by comparison I was feeling more composed, so not wanting to knacker myself for the race I followed Lindsay down the whole track, again loving the middle.

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A relaxing and much needed uplift in the bus and some friendly banter with Emma kept me surprisingly calm, and I was the most relaxed I'd ever been at a DH race.  I opted to let Emma have my last place off the start, saying for her to yell at me if she caught me and I'd let her past.. My turn came and as the beeps counted down I was off  it didn't last long as I'd got within 5m of the first Marshall to be red flagged, I stopped and to the bemused face of Emma and the 2 girls running the start I came back.  Emma went off and I got back in to position to start my run.  All to soon the beeps started and off I went, looking for my lines I shouted happily to Simon as I crossed the forestry road and aimed my bike up over the rough and rooty ground, as I crossed the pushup path I was loving the run, the bike was going where I wanted it to and felt in control, I cleared a rooty bit I hate and came round the 2 switch backs aiming up for the tabletop and road crossing, letting the bike go in the dry I was in sight of the finish.. it was over too soon.  As I came round the back of the start tent to hear my time of


I was so happy not only had I beat my 2:10 target I had beat it by 7 seconds.  The possibility of a sub 2 minute run was being dangled so temptingly in front of me it would be rude not to try.

Back up the top for run 2, was banter with the ladies then mass of stretching and jumping to wake up tired muscles.. before the beeps started.  I had to find 4 seconds, I had pretty much ruled out finding them on the top bit but as my light went green I left the start tent. Remembering my coaching with Katy I kept looking up and where I wanted to go, every time I braked I cursed myself, as I cleared the top part I yelled at Simon that I couldn't stop to chat :) as I turned into the woods taking the wrong line I found Jed pointing at a load of roots, those 4 seconds sat heavy on my mind and again remembering Katy's training I let the brakes go and looked up, the bike simply rumbled over them, still on the wrong line I dropped down a rocky section turning to the first of the step down bits, trying to stay off the brakes and keep looking up as as I cleared the blown out part I pedalled to make up for the braking letting the bike pop over a small lip before heading back into the woods, again trusting the bike I simply locked on to my markers as then looked for the next one.

Me chasing 4 seconds

Making a mistake as I headed into the first switchback rather than slamming on the brakes I remembered Katys pointers on position and forced my eyes round the bend, moving over the bike and leading my body round with my knee, the bike turned and I swivelled round the next bend, totally laying off the brakes as I headed towards the table top pushing Jed into the berms before the road crossing I was loving the run, it was no longer about survival I was counting the seconds.. when I could I pedalled or pumped and kept my focus on what was in front of me.. as I crossed the finish line all I could think of was had I lost those 4 seconds.  I slammed on the brakes, unclipping my lid to pull it off to hear.. as Cooper called out my time

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Happy doesn't put into words the feelings that rushed over me..
All the other ladies had great runs, Emma & Hannah knocked an amazing 20s off their first run times. After a quick post race cocktail and chatter we went to enjoy the sun and watch the rest of the racing.  Gradually as I sat in the sun it hit me, I'd surpassed all my expectations and I'd wanted it.  As I'd raced down the track on my final run I'd found focus, I'd been looking for those seconds, I kept a level head, no longer was it a case of getting to the bottom I'd pushed myself and I'd loved it and those 4 seconds didn't stand a chance.

Some things will NEVER change, post race cocktails!
As the tape was being cleared away I put my lid on rolled over the last table top and down the forestry road on Jed, I knew something in me had changed.  That lady who raced DH with the sole aim of safely getting to the bottom had died, she died somewhere up the top of Ski Run at around 1:45pm on the 30th March.  As I rolled along the forestry road on Jed, I stopped and looked back at the scene, people walked past me smiling, some congratulated me, none of them could see the change, even Darrel and all my close DH friends didn't know what had happened.  I needed to be alone to grieve the death and embrace the future..   I pushed up a track and sat on a tree stump, a tear rolled down my face, it wasn't sadness it wasn't joy, it was something else, but it over whelmed me.

So it's now 24 hours after I sat on the tree stump, and I'm so happy.  In hindsight the death of 'Survival DH mode' had been slow, it started last December when I first raced Ski Run, so it was fitting that it died on Ski Run.  Buying Jed and the coaching with Katy were the push it needed.  It's not a sad death, at no point have I felt sad, my attitude to racing hasn't changed my attitude to the race itself did.  So I dedicate my sub 2 minutes run to all my DH friends (including Darrel and yes Ms Katy Curd you too) you have supported me and help me develop and progress, but watch out guys cos I'm coming for ya now :)

My next race is the Pearce Cycles opening round at Hopton 

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