One week after the Brutal Half I had a 5h mountain bike orienteering event pencilled into my calendar. It was nattily titled ‘Singletrack Stramash’. One day after my ‘little tumble’ though, I was having trouble getting dressed, standing up and walking around. I was sore all over and my knee was especially painful. Taking the dressings off was something I would not like to repeat in a hurry! As the holes scabbed over I spent a whole week wearing a skirt to work, catching the bus / tram everywhere and generally hobbling around.
The race was on Saturday. My friends were divided between advising me to sit it out and suggesting it would be the perfect route to recovery. So on Friday night I took my mountain bike for a spin round the park. When I say ‘park’ I mean a square of grass and trees. I was out for less than 5 minutes. My knee was now bending enough to cause mere discomfort rather than pain. Good news! I texted Ewan to say I would like that 06:30 pickup please, and went to bed with a hot sore knee.
Next morning I was still uncertain, but by now I had committed. So off we went in the chill morning air to Innerleithen. One of the big persuading factors in doing this race was that lots of people I knew would be there. This meant plenty of chat was required before starting and despite my best intentions, I still left at the last possible moment.
I started off gently, as each pedal stroke was pulling gently at my scabs. After the first couple of controls I peered down and was reassured that everything still seemed intact. Ascending the first big climb Paul (Itera teammate) rode away from me, which was slightly unexpected! 😉 . As we contoured round the hill on a narrow track bordered by heather, my fear of falling was much more acute than normal. Unfortunately, this was making me ride timidly, which on a mountain bike normally means you’re only more likely to fall. The big views from the top were amazing though.
As well as my heightened anxieties, on the descent I realised my other slight issue. It turns out that running up and down Snowdon after a nice long bike ride can wear your legs out. They had stopped aching on Friday, but my quads were burning as I held my position on the downhill.
At a short technical section I was ‘riding’ very badly. In fact, I had given up riding and was running down. Shame I hadn’t spotted the fast, easy alternative. Anyway, at the next slightly tricky section I gave myself a stern talking to and rode, which felt much better!
I had polished off the biggest hill first (Cardrona Forest / Gypsy Glen), then a small but distant one (Cademuir plantation). I was now heading for Glentress. I felt a bit lightheaded and unwell, I wasn’t sure why. So I implemented my usual first cure in these cases, which is to drink and eat some more! After collecting a couple of controls, I had three choices to get back down: direct red route, fast fire road, indirect blue. Somehow I ended up on blue before remembering it wasn’t the shortest or fastest – but at least it was fun!
By this point I had been riding for over 3h. I think this was just about long enough for my legs to have warmed up and I started to feel like I could actually ride hard 🙂 . I came back along the valley happy, collecting a checkpoint at the top of an old quarry via some careful forest navigation up from the road. Then it was off to climb another hill at the Innerleithen trail area. A cunning shortcut along a track through a field turned out to be slower than I had hoped as there was a herd of cows sitting all over the path! We didn’t go all the way to the top of Minch Moor this time, but still went quite high.
I had been running through mental calculations about how long I needed for various options and how long I had left. Eventually I decided one more control in the valley was out of reach. In retrospect it was debatable whether it might have been quicker to exit fast along the fire road, collect it and blast back along the road, but who knows! Instead I chose the descent of Cadon Bank, a technical red graded trail, twisting and turning its way down the steep hill.
Luckily by now I was actually riding my bike more like my usual self and tackled the rock features without mishap. The descent seemed to take an age as my time was running out and I still had to bag a 30 pointer on top of a little hill by a radio mast! Really, I should have got this on the way out, but had the idea about 3 minutes too late, right at the start of the race. So as I went through town with 5 minutes to spare, I turned left instead of right and was on my way up.
A lung busting effort saw me top the league table for an obscure Strava segment before my time ran out just before I made it to the control. After that it was a blast back to the finish to minimise my losses as much as possible! 7 minutes and 23 seconds late meant 11 penalty points, which wasn’t too bad. Although there was quite a small field, it was still nice to finish 1st lady and 4th overall … Paul pipped me to third by collecting an extra control and coming back on time! Here are the results.
If I did it again I’d only change one thing about my strategy and a few small refinements to exact track choices, but I made no navigational errors. Although the soup was all gone when I got in (disadvantage of going last) I still got a nice piece of cake. After a quick (free) calf massage there was time to wander into town to get an ice cream before heading home. Even better, my knee seemed no worse, so the risk paid off as I had a lovely time with friends, riding my bike, looking at a map and enjoying the sunshine 🙂 .
Thanks to the organisers for all their hard work in putting on a successful event.
Until next time!