Sunday was the last day of this amazing adventure, the Carpathian MTB Epic, it has been a mental and physical roller coaster from day one.
Lining up at the start line on Sunday I felt a twinge of sadness that this incredible experience was nearly over but also a little relieved that this would be the last day of pain! The final day saw competitors in the 1-day-epic join us at the start line for a shorter 40km loop, this was an appealing idea, just 40km instead of 60km…
For the first time in the race we headed out of the arena and into new territory battling a grassy off camber field with ruts and diverts the size of my front wheel it was tricky to navigate after this exhausting affair we were greeted with a hike-a-bike section, I won’t miss these, at the top I had a decision to make 40km or 60km. It wasn’t hard really it had to be 60km!
The trail continued down on a fast descent, but line choice was important as huge gullies had opened up leaving a thin ‘safe zone’ on which to ride.
I felt really fresh and continued to make good progress. The course was amazing with so much packed into 60km riding through lush green forests, over tiny bridges and vast ravines with the sound of the water echoing.
Once we climbed out of the ravine the descent down was really tricky almost like riding in a river bed of boulders, it was a case of eyes up bum back try to stay straight, my arms were getting a serious workout as I rumbled through the rocks.
At the bottom was every riders nightmare, the air ambulance, I’m not sure what had happened but I do hope whoever the rider was he is okay.
After this I rode slightly more carefully these rugged mountains we were playing in meant business and the consequences for choosing the wrong line could be nasty. The course continued to climb until reaching the steepest downhill I’ve ever come across, channelling my inner Rachel Atherton I rode the first 20m before grabbing a tree in order to stop. Walking my bike was as hard as riding, to keep it going slow enough for me to slide my feet forwards the breaks had to be locked out which made the bike skid sideways.
After battling gravity through the wood the bottom was in sight and the course started to climb, again.
My nutrition strategy was working every 40 minutes EAT. This worked well and I pushed myself hard until the end was in sight. The last 5km were tough following the same course as stage two it felt a really long way, but finally the white arch was in view and I just had one more climb to make and then it would be the home straight.
Rolling over the finish line was an awesome feeling the Carpathian MTB Epic stage race had held nothing back, a massive adventure which pushed my mountain bike skills to the max and challenged what I thought my body was capable of. Turns out it was more capable than I thought!
Coming into the race I was not prepared, training had been mediocre at best and a mixture of family and friend events had not exactly made me ‘super healthy’ either. What I learnt was that your body is incredibly adaptable and you just learn to suck it up, smile and keep pushing those pedals and eventually that climb will finish.
Until next time…
Stage two of the Carpathian MTB Epic started with the same route out of Fundata as stage one this gruelling climb hadn’t become easier overnight which was a shame as my legs pushed hard, body weight over the bars just to keep traction on the front wheel.
The route climbed a similar path up to the first feed station but today instead of turning left we went right a short sharp climb led to what felt like the roof of the world towering above the mighty Carpathian mountain range, standing still to catch my breath my heart beat was the only sound. The vast wilderness stretched out in every direction un-touched by humans, rugged and wild.
Now for the descent! The start was a grassy meadow, with a twist as it was basically a vertical drop, I opted for two feet! This came with the nuisances of flies, which seemed to think I smelt great. I’m sure I didn’t!
Once past the rather daunting top section the climb entered the woods and became a whole world of fun, loose earth, roots and switch backs made for technical riding. I kept my eyes up and picked my lines carefully as I swept through the forest my Specialized 29’er making easy progress down the mountain side.
We were at the bottom far too quick, a long an arduous gravel road climb took you straight from glory and back to the pain cave for what seemed like an age, as I made my way out of the tree line the rumbles of thunder got louder.
Finally seeing the red tent of the all too familiar feed zone I had made it to 25km in 3 hours 21 mins and passed the cut off for continuing into the most technical section of the course. As I started to climb the weather growled, thunder and lightning seemed to be surrounding me and the rain was coming down like someone had turned the hose on! Reaching the woods I slipped off the path and hurt my ankle, it wasn’t that bad, but in that moment I
decided that my head had to rule and to turn round and back to safety. Reaching the red tent I was surprised how far I had actually climbed. Not stopping at the feed zone I continued on through the rain and wind feeling so cold I just kept pushing, not noticing the time tick by… By the time I realised my lack of eating and drinking it was too late to reverse the damage I had done, it was if someone had switch the power off in my legs and the only gear was slow and painful, I crawled back into the race village.
On unpacking my stuff and reflecting it became even more evident why I was I trouble my full camelback told the story, I was so dehydrated my body was just running on nothing. It’s safe to say stage two was a steep re-education in looking after myself. Usually I am so good at refuelling but the conditions got the better of me and then I paid the price hitting the wall 10km from the finish.
Stage three I promised myself would go better, and it did!
To see more photos head over to my instagram.
This first stage had a total distance of 60km with an elevation of 2,700m (although my Garmin said 2,995m)
Friday was the first stage of the Carpathian MTB Epic. The day started with a hearty breakfast and plenty of procrastination on my part.
After what seemed like an age waiting in the starting box the music fell silent and the loud heart beat timer started our count down, I could feel my heart racing and tried to control my breathing. The starter sounded and the sounds of clicking pedals and gear shifts filled the air as we set off out of the race village towards, what for me, was about to be an awesome day in the saddle.
The climbing and heat hit me straight away as the other riders pulled further up the road, I knew I needed to pace myself after all I was here for the enjoyment and adventure not to ‘race’ but as a ‘racer’ that can be quite difficult to get your head round.
The course took us through some spectacular scenery we climbed up on to a ridge line, where the first feed station sat, at just over 12km into the race. It had been a mixture of ‘hike a bike’ and gradual climbing to get here up fire roads with horses grazing in the woods and loggers hauling huge trees behind tractors.
I looked up at the climb to the top of the peak and ate another date, I was going to need all my energy for this one! Once up this short sharp climb the course stayed high and traversed the sky line, the view was incredible! The first proper ‘descent’ felt very steep and loose.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur the course continued to be gruelling and amazing at the same time. The clouds had once again pulled in and the thunder in the distance worried me, it was going to get wet, very wet! I stopped and put my rain jacket on and continued my descent towards Feed Zone 2, reaching this I was right to put my jacket on when I did as the heavens open and within seconds everything was washed out, the next section was a road climb which seemed to go on forever, the road had become a river and the rain was making it hard to see.
I was relieved to be off the road and back to the gravel; even though this was harder to climb I didn’t have to worry about the cars.
The route meandered through the valley with towering rock cliffs on one side and the open meadows on the other, farmers and their cattle watched on as I slowly made my way around the course following a stream which then became a river to cross before tracking the valley on the other side. I could see little dots behind me, which I thought were cyclists and it felt comforting to know I wasn’t the only one!
The climb continued and on reaching the top the huge rock face stood in the distance, you’re going over there said the marshal, wow it looked far away!
Continuing along and down I was surprised to reach the rock face quicker than I anticipated proving that all you have to do is keep pushing those pedals and you will eventually make it.
The next climb was exhausting and I really began to question the ‘fun factor’, it was a grassy climb and in the wet my shoes kept slipping and it seemed to take hours to reach the marshals who were lovely, they said one little bit of up then it’s all down! That sounded promising.
Of course that’s not quite how it went it was more like up, down, up, down, up then down.
It was a spectacular descent now on the other side of the rock face and open valley to my left the descent was rocky and challenging I kept my wits about me as I negotiated the rocks enjoying the challenge. The trail led into the woods where I felt really at home working my way through rooty sections, looking for the best line when the trail was off camber and holding on for dear life when it got rather steep in more than one place! Sometimes the descents would be gradual and then turn steep and committing 100% was the only way to make it down, the descents pushed my ability and belief in myself but time after time I made it to the bottom without coming off.
The final 10km was hard work the descent for 4km to the road was a rutted field with steep sections that came out of nowhere the last 5km up the road was a killer, pain seems to be a prerequisite of cycling so I sucked it up and pedalled on. Soon enough the white archway was in site and I crossed the finish line.
Stage one down, two to go!
Today was the start of the Carpathian MTB Epic, a three day stage race in Romania. I was under the illusion the 10km prologue would be a gentle introduction to the beautiful mountains surrounding the resort. I was in for a shock!
The day started pretty chilled breakfast and working out the jigsaw of putting the bike back together after, what already felt like, epic journey to get here.
After packing my camelbak in the heat of the Romanian afternoon I wasn’t entirely convinced carrying a bag was the best way forward, but it was too late to go back to bottle cages now. The music playing loudly and the chilled out vibe reminded me of the Trans Alp and as the sun shone I made my way out onto the course.
10km doesn’t sound like a very long way but it soon felt like it. The climbing was insane! I always knew it was going to be, it’s hard to practise for ‘mountains’ in Southern England but I kept pushing forward, knowing that it had to end eventually, didn’t it?
The ground was loose gravel and rocky and traction was proving tricky. The first descent was steep but manageable down a grassy bank, this brought you back into the area over two little jumps and then back out and up.
This final climb finished with two switch backs and then a short descent onto a gravel road which took me into the woods. I felt at home in the wood it was cooler and felt more like home riding the trail was loamy and I enjoyed making my way through the trees. Until, I got to the first ‘A’ line, when you see three downward pointing arrows you know its worth having a little peak before jumping in. I am glad I looked.
Nerves have always been a nemesis, I know everyone gets them, I seem to tie myself in knots quite easily pre-race and the knots had not released my brain yet so my feet hit the ground and there they stayed until I was at the bottom. Mind-set is something I find fascinating, how one way day it can just flow and on others not so. Whether your approaching a steep descent or your own ‘steep descent’ being able to think clearly enables you to react in the way you want to. Lets just say today there is a little fog in my brain and thinking clearly is hampered!
Anyway, back to the course after another fun section through the woods it was back to the climb a long an arduous single-track trail, the jumps and drop offs soon made me realise we were riding up a downhill track, the climb got so steep it was taking all my efforts just to keep the front wheel on the ground. I decided pushing may be more efficient and got off I am not sure if this was the case and what felt like a long time passed before the gradient eased out enough for me to remount.
After the ‘hairy’ descent and brutal climb it was just a case of staying on two wheels back round into the arena. With a sign of relief to see the white arch and flags again after what had been a testing adventure.
After a shower and sitting down to write down my thoughts on today it was a mental and physical battle, but one that I did enjoy, I think. The Carpathian team fitted an extraordinary amount of gradient, obstacles and work into 10k it was packed full of surprises no kilometre was the same.
Tomorrow it gets a little more serious! 60km 2,700m of climbing… I feel tired just thinking about it.
Getting into Enduro Racing by Helen Mather
My first ever long ride, and by long ride I mean more than 5 miles, was taking part in the London to Brighton charity ride. 75miles off road, something I’d never done before but was naïve to think I could just hop on a bike and ride it. After completing the distance in under 10 hours, I took up the sport more seriously. New bike, gear and accessories. Riding the trails gave me freedom, was distressing and challenging. The adrenaline rush down hill is my drive for the sport, so what better way than to push my boundaries with Enduro racing.
Race day. I arrived early. I can already feel the excitement. it was a cold morning yet sunny. The ground crisp. After unloading the bike and checking it over I took a walk into the race village. The smell of coffee and nattering of ‘bike talk’ builds my excitement. At registration I queue amongst fellow riders. Everyone is so friendly. I get my number and timing chip, which I attach to my bike. As a local I have ridden in the area, however not the particular trails that will be used in the race, so along with others I walk some of the trials.
Looking up and the steep incline, tight corners and loose soil, nerves start to take over. ‘How will I get round that corner?’, ‘How will I stay on over those roots?’ The trails seemed daunting. ‘What have I set myself up for?’ Taking mental notes for an attempt to help improve my run I walk the other trails.
Riders are called to the start line, as we set off across the timing matt to start our first transition, my heart is pounding, palms sweating………..And we are off. 100’s of riders, mostly men, mount there bikes, the sound of cleats echo’s through the trees. As we are climbing we start to disperse, each rider at there own pace, I may not the be quickest but hey, why tire yourself out now?
At the top my heart is racing. The queue in front of me is moving quick, not helping my nerves, but everyone around me is supportive and talkative. Everyone talks to everyone. There’s no judgement just pure encouragement. I tell the marshal I’m worried and he smiles and says ‘you’ll be fine’ and starts counting down for my first run.
I go, pedalling hard, trying to remember what I saw on the trail walk. I’m round the 1st corner, speeding up, round the second corner, speeding up, then bang…..I’m off. On my hands and knees and off the bike , I’m annoyed, 30 seconds in and I’m off, thiscant be right (luckily my partner behind forgot to turn the go pro on for this stage). I reach for the bike, and with encouragement from a marshal and my partner I’m back on, confidence knocked as I attempt to navigate down the steepest part of the trail, not the part I was looking forward too but adrenaline pumping I’m back into the swing of it and fly down the remainder of the stage cheered on by my family watching. My pride is overwhelming.
3 stages, 2 runs each, I manage to complete 5 more runs without any major mishaps. Waiting in anticipation for the results, I talk over my runs with friends and my other half, who followed me down each run. The feel good factor swarms the race village, all with their own stories to tell. Good and bad. No one passes judgment, its all a laugh.
Once every rider has complete, the results are in. With 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for each category a crowd forms round the podium. Cheers and applause for each rider called out. Then my name….. 3rd, in Womens fun! Who would have known?! I went from a bag of nerves to 3rd place. What an achievement. My biggest achievement. But everyone is a winner. To be part of the experience, to be accepted in an male dominated sport, to gain self belief, I would recommend it to anyone.
My top tips would be:
Practice techniques, repetition is key to perfection
Set your bike up correctly, the small things can make a big difference
Walk/ride the trails before racing so you know what to expect
Look ahead, where you look is where you go
Stay relaxed, keep the ‘ready position’, let the momentum take you
I started riding in 2012, socially completing the Purbeck hill-a-sarus sportive which I really enjoyed. One day bored, at work I started looking for other events and came across 24 Hours of Exposure, a 24 hour solo event, so I entered, this was to be my first ever race.
Since then I have tried many different mountain bike race formats, including Solo Endurance races, Team Endurance races, XC racing, Marathon Racing and Multi Day Stage racing.
I prefer the challenge of multi-day events and the endurance events. This year along with some Stage Racing I am also doing a 24 hour solo race and a 12 hour solo race and maybe even some XC races!
Club La Santa International 4 Day Stage Race
This was my 3rd time doing the 4 day stage race at Club La Santa in Lanzarote, 2015, 2017 and now 2018, why do I keep coming back? It’s a great event, great value for money and something to aim for when its cold wet and miserable in the UK.
This year I had the best preparation I have ever had, at the beginning of October I started with a new coach, Sally Bigham, one of the best and most successful stage racers in the world. Sally has been working me hard and I have been putting a lot of hours training in mainly using my Wahoo KickR which is great tool for training especially when training on power and doing quite complicated intervals as it sets everything for you and all you need to do is turn your legs at the right cadence, drink and sweat, a lot!
At the end of September I went to the Torq Fitness HQ to do a Lactate threshold test and FTP. The Lactate Threshold was all over as I suspect I was coming down with a cold as I woke up the next day full of cold and the FTP numbers were quite low but I had hardly ridden since Alps Epic due to being away with work for a month, my FTP was 198 Watts, about 6 weeks later this went up to 212 Watts and then on Christmas eve I was out riding and everything felt good so I decided to attempt one out on the road, I was amazed, I had jumped up to 266 Watts, a huge improvement and was feeling really strong, then on the 2nd of January I suffered another Asthma Attack which took around a week to get over and my training in January really took a hit, after that I was away with work again and then busy moving house so prior to flying to Lanzarote I had barely ridden.
I had been told not to ride too hard as I hadn’t ridden much in the lead up to the race, I started out nice and steady on the road until we hit the dirt, I felt good so I pushed and pushed and pushed, everything felt so good the bike was great my legs felt strong so off I went, this stage was different to past years so I couldn’t really compare the times but my position amongst the other Brits out told me I had seen quite a lot of improvement so I was very happy. The conditions were tough as well, high winds and cooler than normal made things tough.
On Stage Two I decided to ride with my friend Sarah Hewitt, she was sat in 2nd place after Stage One and I knew there was going to be some tough sections on this stage with the head winds so I rode with her and acted as a wind block for her. I really enjoyed working together, we worked hard in tough conditions and she retained second place. About 5km from the end of the stage I had a mechanical, my gear cable had pulled through and I couldn’t shift out of the hardest gear, after a couple of minutes deciding if I carry on in the hard gear or fix it I decided to fix it, Sarah carried on so as not to lose any time, it only took a couple of minutes to fix and I probably lost 5 places by the end, I got back on and set about chasing down some of those that had passed me, I had passed a couple and had caught a British Army rider so I decided to sit in and recover before passing him as I could see Sarah not too far ahead of me, however I switched off a little bit too much and decided to have a lay down in some soft sand, fortunately no injuries bar some bruising to my hip and thigh and somehow I had missed any of the Lava Rock. Again this stage was different to previous years so no comparison could be made to previous years but I was happy with my performance and position and Sarah was still in second place in her category.
Stage three is the individual Time Trial, you start on the Beach in Famara and finish on the top of the cliff above. My start time was much later than everyone else so they all got the bus down in the morning and I decided to ride down later as this would act as a good warm up prior to the stage. Again I was still feeling strong and this was the one stage where I could have a direct comparison to previous years, last year I had completed the 22km in 1:38 so I set my self a target time of 1:30. I set off and was feeling strong again, I pushed hard all the way except on the descents, the cross winds were that bad I was being blown of the track and had to slow down and lost some time on these sections. The final climb was tough, with a strong headwind and it was cold, I actually felt very cold in the last 1/3 of the climb, but I pushed on and worked at my limit with an average heart rate of 181bpm and a max of 192bpm. I was over the moon when I crossed the line at 1:22, 8 minutes quicker than my target time and 16 minutes quicker than last year.
Stage four is the big one, 84.5km and the route was very similar to last year all be it 2km shorter. I rode with Sarah again which was really good, we jumped between groups in the headwinds, me working on the front as I know I could recover on the descents. My Santa Cruz Tallboy is the perfect bike for Stage racing, I nice position and I have fitted it with a dropper post which was great for the descents. Part way through the stage there is a 10km climb and leading in to it is a drag on a fire track in to a headwind, I knew what was coming but still pushed hard along here, gaining a few places and catching some riders that were up ahead, I knew Sarah would be stronger than me on the climb but I also knew I could catch her on the descent the other side so off she went into the distance and I plugged away, I was suffering with some lower back pain which didn’t help and the winds were still strong as we climbed, but even with all of this I felt stronger than I had before so pushed on. As I thought I caught Sarah on the Technical descent and waited for her at the bottom which gave me a chance to stretch which really helped and maybe something I should have taken time for earlier… We carried on the stage together and continued to gain places.
The last 15km or so were in to a strong headwind so head down and keep pushing, Sarah did say after that she moved to take a turn on the front, pulled out from behind, felt the head win and tucked back in, it was tough and I have never been able to work that hard for that long, as we pushed closer to the finish I spotted two riders ahead and was pretty sure one of them was the lady that was leading the category Sarah was in so I pushed harder, making sure Sarah was still with me but hadn’t told her that I thought her main competition was up ahead, we caught with about 3km to go and passed her and her friend very quickly but she had jumped on the back, the last few Km’s were tight and twisty so I was pushing but trying not to push too hard but also making sure that I hadn’t lost Sarah and was towing the other lady instead, I knew it would be a sprint finish for them so as we came in to Club La Santa I pulled over to the side and let them pass, Sarah took the sprint and the stage and finished second overall. My time for this year was amazing, last year was over 6 hours, this year was 5:12, so a huge improvement for me, would I have pushed so hard if I had been on my own I’m not sure, having someone else to ride for and ride with really pushed me on, now to convince Sarah we need to pair up for a big stage race like the Bike Transalp.
I am very happy with my results this year and have seen huge improvements thanks to my amazing coach Sally Bigham, my next big event is Transpyr in June which I will be doing solo, 800km, 18200m’s climbing in seven days.