Haglöfs Open5 Series – North Downs
A test of nerve and mind over matter.
The sixth race in this series and we were back off the bottom of my maps! It wasn’t so bad though, as my aunt and uncle live just 20 minutes away from the venue so I could combine the race with a visit.
To set the scene, this could be make or break time for the series. Best three scores to count, and I was on the back foot with Lucy already having two wins in the bag to my one. There were also some other strong girls entered, so I knew it would be a good competition.
But there was one thing above all else I wanted to do in this race.
I love mountain biking. In January (Quantocks) I was poorly and had mechanicals. In February (Warcop) I made a tactical mistake and had no excuse. But looking at the results the speed of my bike legs just didn’t live up to those in October (Staveley) and November (Church Stretton). So I did three things differently.
1) I listened to my coach! I have only had a coach for a couple of months, in a bid to get fit for the Celtman in June. But he was telling me all week to ease off and rest up.
2) I went and rode on Saturday. I missed doing a recce for the last two races due to logistics. I can’t possibly predict or cover all the trails we will use, but in an unfamiliar area having a few reference points is useful. I find it also really helps get my brain in gear and my head into the map. Andy told me off for going too far and for too long – but it was really sunny and warm and I was having a good time! 😉
3) I used my bike computer more. I don’t know why I’ve had to learn this twice. I learnt it last year. Keeping an eye on my average speed makes me ride faster. Every time I start drifting, my speed drops and I remember to pick it back up again! Magic.
There was one more different thing, but it was a last minute decision. Chatting to Ruth an hour before the start, we were commenting on how difficult it would be to escape back to the finish on the bike if it was all taking too long. I always run first, when I’m fresh, and bike second. But this made me think – maybe I should bike first, get a really good round in and then construct a run route to fit the time available. So:
4) I biked first!
I was anxious before the start. I couldn’t focus on potential routes or see any sensible ways to go. My mum had come to support me and was trying to calm me down, but I was too worked up! Having ‘series leader’ in yellow pinned to my front and zip tied to my bike only added to the pressure. Regardless of what happened with the results, I wanted to give a performance that did the label justice.
The start was a gentle spin up the road. It was already raining, but we were down south, so it was mild (or so I thought). I faffed around in transition and put off the moment of starting. Then I got the values and information on ‘no controls’ (i.e. controls worth zero) and fretted a bit more before I set off.
From that moment though, my head was in the zone.
I pedalled as hard as I could nearly all of the time. The exception near the start was the singletrack called ‘summer lightning’. The control was in a mystery location somewhere along the route, which always makes me slow down as I’m paranoid about riding straight past it! Once that was out of the way there was no stopping me. Looking at the results I seem to have made an ‘unusual’ route choice – but it made sense to me at the time! The area had more minor roads than usual, and I made the most of them to cover distance quickly.
As I headed back to transition I realised it might be a little cold, as I was having trouble changing gear properly (my fingers weren’t working). I was a bit slower than usual as I had to fiddle with double knotting laces on running shoes instead of doing buckles on biking shoes.
The cold didn’t register properly until about 10 minutes into the run when I was really shivering! I worked out why when it started snowing. Not just a bit, but full on wet snow, coming down sideways in the wind. Even though I had my waterproof on, the thin tops I had on underneath weren’t enough, and my spare top was in my bike bag – back at transition. Doh! Whilst trying to keep moving and navigate I decided my only two options were to run faster or get my silver cape out and put it on under my coat. One would speed me up and the other slow me down – so I went with option one!
Things almost went wrong right at the end. I lost the path in the woods amongst a load of informal little trails and ended up bashing through the forest to get to the main track I could see below. This was allowed in the rules, but wasn’t very fast! Then there was a long haul back up the road with aching legs. Just one last control to collect and time was tight. I missed the first footpath turning, found the second one, got disorientated, almost panicked, then … regained composure, found the control and sprinted up the last bit of hill. I haven’t had to run so hard in a long time and thought I might pass out at the end. I certainly wasn’t cold any more and best of all, I was back in time! 37 seconds to spare – wonders never cease.
I knew I had raced hard and hadn’t made any major mistakes. It was a good feeling, as I felt whatever the outcome; I had done what I could.
As it turned out, I got my second win of the winter. This means the series will go right to the last race and be decided in April, when I will have to go through it all again! 🙂
The weather conditions were worse than a lot of us had anticipated and caused a few people to pull out or cut short their races. It took me about an hour to warm up afterwards! However, I scored 520, my highest score of the series so far. I was also joint 5th overall (my best ever Open Adventure result); beaten by Sabrina and Ben in the mixed pairs (who got an excellent 530 even though they came back freezing 20 minutes early), a male pair and two male solos. I think I should hope for bad weather every race! Here are the full results.
I was also helped by my aunt who pampered me and cooked awesome race food, my uncle who gave me a lift out for my ride on Saturday and my mum, who took me to and from the race, cheered me on and was official photographer. She’s been my lucky charm so far!
I had a great weekend and never knew what fun you could have riding up the Downs. I finished it off on Monday with home-made cheesecake for breakfast before heading for the train back home. I wish every race weekend could end like that!