My first ever race was near Oxford so on the morning of the race Martyn and I travelled up to the race from Southampton, I was so nervous! Whilst I went to get my number Martyn got my bike off the car. I had changed into just a gym top and shorts, only to be told I really needed to wear a t-shirt style top next time, they thought I was a triathlete! I went back with my number and had a banana, I was so nervous I wasn’t sure I could even race. There were people around me with different bikes, changing tyres and it all seemed very technical but, at the same time there was a buzz and friendliness. In this massive field, on the side of a forest, everyone had come together to enjoy mountain biking and I loved that feeling. As my nerves settled whilst in my practise lap, the sun came out and it just felt like this is what I was meant to be doing!
I was racing against four other girls in the open category. The race was a bit of a blur I tried to keep up with one of the youth riders and stuck with her for about a lap and a bit before she disappeared into the distance. I couldn’t remember who was in my category so I just pushed as hard as I could, even though my lungs were burning and my legs felt like lead. The course was tight single track through a wooded area which had faster sections along the edges of fields, where my hard tail bike seemed to be trying to shake me off! I ended up winning the race and felt really good. I was tired but not exhausted. One thing was for sure, I was totally hooked on the buzz of the race. I brought my racing license the next week and entered the National series thinking how tough can it be? Little did I know what was to come!
My first cross country national race experience was at Langdon Hills in Essex, I was living in Southampton at the time. I got up around 5am and drove myself to the race. I remember arriving really early before most people because I had left myself so much time in case of traffic. There was a big truck with the British Cycling logos all over it, a stage and an event ‘village’ with lots of bike manufacturers branded gazebos. To my surprise there were already a few people going around the course. A whole different world away from the previous race! I had a banana, gave Martyn a call and went out on a practise lap. I was really excited and nervous. I started off up a hill, across a field and then reached a road….It then dawned on me I had taken a wrong turn, and had to track back. I found my way back and continued enjoying the course. There were no really big drops, but a couple of big roots which I clumsily banged into and over luckily without getting thrown off!
I felt pretty good. I got to a sign which said 4km and thought wow that was quick 4km gone already! Having done things like the Race for Life I should have known that it actually meant I had done 1km! I carried on. There was a huge hill close to the end which felt never ending and just about finished me off! I wasn’t sure how I was going to do three laps of this course. The course was very up and down so my decision was to pace myself on the first lap and then go for it on the last two.
After the practise lap I registered and gridding began. Straight away all riders had to ride round in this little holding arena in front of the British Cycling van, each category was called individually and then was sent off by the starting gun. Finally sport riders were called, there was only me and one other female rider, she was really friendly. We joked about being able to take it easy because there was just the two of us but I said well we should really race as I had come all this way to see how good I was!
The gun sounded and Fern (the rider I had been speaking too) shot off up the hill so quickly I thought ah! We have three laps she will be knackered by lap two and I’ll catch her up! Well it didn’t exactly go to plan! I stuck with her up the hill and into the first bit of single track. She was a lot faster uphill than me and on the downhill’s had a lot more confident letting her bike run out, where I was cautious. I stuck with her as long as I could but soon felt the gap opening up. I did everything I could to cling on and came back into the finish about 500 meters behind her but the thought of another two laps was slowing me down and she seemed to just be getting quicker! My legs were burning and screaming at me on every uphill and my arms were being shaken to pieces on all the rooty downhills. The rest of the race went by quickly and I actually felt better on my third lap and picked the pace up. I crossed the finish line exhausted, but full of achievement and pride at finishing what had felt like a really tough three laps. I came second and was chuffed to receive a really nice plaque. It turned out Fern was the series winner and had not actually lost a race ever!
This experience taught me the value of having the courage to just have a go and test what you’re capable of, to see how far you can go and what you can achieve, even when your nervous and full of doubt.
Sometimes in life it is too easy to say “I can’t ” than, “let’s have a go!”
Life is so high pressured we are all constantly under pressure to perform well in our careers and family life. Personally I think this can sometimes makes you nervous to try new things, because you get worried about other people’s perceptions.
We all have moments when we feel we can’t do something and in some circumstances you may be right, but if you don’t try how will you ever know?
My tips for anyone thinking about entering a XC race are:
- Arrive in time to ride the course and warm up properly
- Believe you can, set yourself a challenge
- Take a spare change of clothes, you never know how muddy it may be
- Try out any gels/bars/energy drinks on a training ride before the race
- Take your own loo roll, especially if your a girl it always seems to run out
- We all have negative thoughts. It’s how you let them affect you which determines whether you can or cannot
- Ride your own race