QECP DAY AND NIGHT ENDURO It will be fun they said……… By Jo Tucker

QECP DAY AND NIGHT ENDURO It will be fun they said……… By Jo Tucker

QECP DAY AND NIGHT ENDURO RACE REPORT 2015 by Jo Tucker

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When I was a kid, I was reasonably handy on a mountain bike, I was definitely brought up in the era where parents shrugged their shoulders if you happened to eat some dirt and would pick you up after a fall, rub the constant flow of blood spurting out of your knee with a filthy tissue from a pocket and then told you to carry on as you were.  This lead to a reasonably well established tom boy attitude that saw me messing about with the lads canoeing on hand made rafts on the local lakes in the long summer evenings after school, playing street hockey on inline skates in car parks with no helmets or pads and most importantly riding my pride and joy, my mountain bike, a beautiful fully ridged Scott Pro Racing mountain bike to be exact, imported from the States just for me, covered in the most up to date (in 1990) Shimano Deore top shifters and Deore chain set, bear trap pedals and specialized mavic wheels heavier than a small child….Along with the boys on a selection of original Rock Hoppers and Muddy Fox’s, we’d give anything a go and often ride straight down obstacles  like steep flights of steps on Bournemouth beach front, no helmets, no pads and without hesitation, doing stuff like this made us feel like rock stars and we loved the danger.

Eventually the dream was over, we left school and everyone went their own ways, got married, moved abroad or in my case remembered that underneath I was actually a girl and got a boyfriend.  I then brought a horse which took up all of my time instead of bikes and hockey and my childhood became just that ‘Childhood’.…………….Fast track 25 years, my horse sadly passed away from old age, ‘Justin’ (the boyfriend) was nothing but a distant bad memory of dodgy haircuts, mix tapes and Vauxhall Cavillers and I found myself bored and twiddling my thumbs.

Then it happened, in 2013 mum and dad decided to sell the family home and when clearing out the garage they came across my very sad looking Scott……’Captain’ (the name I’d given my bike many moons before) was rusty, ceased up with flat tyres and in bad way.  Mum was all up for taking him off to the tip but something reignited in me looking at that old bike and I decided that I was going to get him sorted  and at the grand old age of 38, take to the trails again……….

The bike was restored, I started to ride, I spent a summer getting fitter on good old Captain and then one day headed off to Swinley to go and ‘shred trails’ like the people I’d been watching on youtube and in magazines.

I woke up in hospital the next day with my leg in plaster………turns out you can’t take a berm at the wrong angle at warp speed on a ridged bike if you have a skill set of the average 3 year old child.

It took 6 months for my ankle to heal around all the metal that is now in it and during this time I spent 6 months absolutely furious that I’d got that berm so wrong and planning my escape from my plaster/crutches/physio prison which would lead me straight back to my bike!!

Admittedly, lessons were learnt during this time:

a)      Bikes have come on a lot since 1990.

b)      Although you shouldn’t rely on suspension as a rider, unless you’re one of the Athertons, it’s probably best to stick to something which is a little bit more forgiving if you should get things a bit wrong occasionally.

c)       Just because a doctor says it’s not in your best interest to do something, doesn’t mean you have to listen.

SO, I purchased an HT Orange Crush or ‘Duke’ as I call him, on the C2W scheme and slowly but surely started getting out there again.

The Biking Gods appeared to like this sense of stubborn I will not give up attitude and very soon people, especially my friend Smudge, randomly began to pop up.  Smudge is an accomplished mtb rider and he has been good enough to give me the very best guidance and support over the past 9 months and under his wing I’ve come on in the most massive leaps and bounds of which I am very grateful to him.

After watching Smudge race in one of the UKGE stages last year and with his ‘go large or go home’ attitude  pushing me along, instead of looking at me like I’d grown another head when I suggested racing,  his response was ‘why not give it a go’.

Now, leading into the QECP Day and Night Enduro, I had done a couple of other races, I did a mini enduro back in February and I’ve done a couple of XC races but nothing, I MEAN NOTHING could have prepared me for this race………..

A couple of days before hand, I’d been feeling pretty damn good about the whole thing, I’d be driving along listening to some form of big 80s rock, thinking how it would make a great backing track for my very own trail/race video and daydreaming about flying down one of the stages with the wheels of my bike ‘Ariel’ (I’ve brought a Full Sus Saracen Ariel 142 to add to the bike stable since the Orange) skimming across the dirt and roots like it was a hovercraft with my body in perfect attack mode, focused, determined face and the crowd aghast to what an amazing rider I am, followed up by a magazine approaching me after the race for interviews and photo signings………..this is not what happened.

Pardon the pun, but the wheels started to come off pretty much at the riders briefing when I realised that for the next 6 hours, during practice and then the race, other than riding the stages I was going to be hauling my still slightly damaged, slightly overweight, not particularly fit carcass up hills and when I say hills, I mean hills that I didn’t even really know existed this side of the Welsh or Scottish borders………..Climbing is really not one of my fortes and on the list of things I don’t like it is well up there with work, horrible people and asparagus.

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I sucked in a deep breath though and rationalised it in my head that it was an Enduro race and to go downhill I did need to go up hill first and so I set off with my friends to check out the stages.

Stage 1 – Now, I’ll let you into a secret, I’ve ridden stage 1 before, we’d found it a couple of weeks ago on a pre-race scouting session and I’d travelled down a couple of times with my friends and ridden it so I was well over throwing a proper tantrum about it, refusing to ride the drops and nearly crying because it was scary and now I was pretty happy with it.

I did get off at the first steep bend but I just couldn’t get my head around the  fact that it dropped away so steeply, if I fell there I was properly going to roly poly down the hill like some form of brightly wrapped lard ball, wearing a full face helmet with a hydration pack strapped to it so I decided it was just quicker to get off and back on again and avoid the dithering, the rest of it went well and I got to the bottom feeling hopeful and happy that I felt confident and most importantly I felt that I could actually do this!

This feeling was short lived……We regrouped at the bottom and sat there for a minute taking in the sights of the riders coming down the hill, some nailing it, some not but everyone smiling at the end.  Then it started…..people were coming off ‘the other exit’ (end of stage 2), complete strangers stopping or riding past asking if we’d ridden it yet, and then after our response of No, saying things like ‘Good Luck’ or ‘It’s horrible’……..after a while we decided tentatively to head up there and take a look ourselves.

NOTHING on this planet could have prepared me for what was to come……..Now discard the shattered ankle and issues that I’ve had and over the winter getting fit again, Smudge has done a fine job on me, I use Strava as  a guide to how I am getting on compared to others and I’m hitting the top 10’s quite regularly in places like the red runs at Swinley and FoD even QECP so I’m not that scared of belting down hills as fast as I can go but that stage, THAT STAGE actually made me want my mum and I’m now 40………….

It wasn’t long before setting off that I first slammed my brakes on, it was even less time than that that I was off the bike and stood at the top of the first big ask muttering to myself in disbelieve ‘Jesus bloody Christ’……it didn’t get any better………if there was a competition that was based on riders sliding down hills on their arses desperately trying to hold onto their bike as it slid away, I’d be Olympic standard now.

Eventually we got to the bottom, I felt scared, really, really scared and actually contemplated quitting right then, peddling back to the tent, grabbing a beer and going to find a nice spot where I could watch people who knew what they were doing ride that stuff…….but no, I think you’ve probably got the gist that I’m not a quitter so I wrestled those feelings back down and set off again up the hill to the start of stage 3.

We got there just in time to give it a quick practice run back down to the race village side of the hill and the start of the race, Stage 3 in comparison to ‘Hell’s Entrance Chute’ (the new name I’ve given stage 2) was a dream.  Flowly, bit pedally, bit rooty but so much fun and much further within my comfort zone so I felt happier.

After practice my race plan was simple…..Just get through stage 2 however I can and the rest is doable.

It wasn’t long after entering the race village that it was time to head out again, as I sat on the start line I felt focused and ready………I can do this.

Off we went, my friend Kat was behind me so we could ride together, the ride up to Stage 1 was tougher than it should have been on already well worked legs but we were ok, we supported each other and spoke about our game plans.

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Stage 1 – the start
and my fear turned into excitement during that 10 second count down.  GO!  I headed out, as I turned into the woods I said out loud ‘Come on Ariel, we can do this’ and as the transmitter on my wrist beeped to signify the clock starting I began to pedal hard…………I did get off at the first corner but it was fine, quick and clean, just like I’d planned…..I then realised as I was flying along the narrow off camber single track I’d worried about a couple of weeks before that I was smiling, I was actually enjoying this…..a lot.

That feeling was relatively short lived as I took a tumble through the sharp rooty jump bit, but I was fine, everything still worked so I was up, on the bike and off again.  My slightly dented confidence was restored quickly by a fellow racer who had caught me up and passed me but as he flew past he took the time to give me some encouragement and shouted ‘Come on your nearly there’…………that’s the good thing about mtbers, generally they are a pretty sound bunch and it doesn’t matter if they are fearless and fast on a bike, they are still going to show even the slowest, scared riders support and kindness it makes MTB world a good place to hang out.  Anyway, I did the drops on to and off of the fire road even though they still scared me to death without hesitate, I finished the Stage and I felt proud of myself.

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On to stage 2………..Kat and I headed up the hill, we dissected our runs down stage 1 and although we had both taken tumbles we were pretty happy.  We arrived back at the start for stage 2 40 mins later.  I was counted down first and then off I went……….It was just as horrific as I remembered, I could have walked back down to the QECP café, had a coffee, walked back up and still been faster than I was down that stage……the light was beginning to fade now, the roots and drops looked harsher in the twilight and I pretty much pussied the whole lot of it……looking back it was probably harder to walk than it was to ride but on the flip side of that it was so far out of my comfort zone that I would have fallen A LOT and who knows which one of those falls I might have severely injured myself on, I wasn’t ready for that kind of riding but that isn’t saying I won’t be in the future…..just not yet.

We made it to the bottom, both in one piece, both covered in mud and both relieved.  It wasn’t pretty, elegant or skilful in any sense but we’d done it.

Now up and onto stage 3, from here we knew things were a bit easier, we were tired, fatigue was kicking in, it was now pretty dark but we were halfway.

On the climb up many other riders past us, the mens category had pretty much all caught up now but they all had kind words, advice (i.e. save your lights) and general support which again set a nice community feel off in my tummy and reminded me that we weren’t in this alone.

Stage 3 was fun, it was right up my street, fast, flowly, bit rooty bit twisty but very enjoyable!  I did tumble again coming off of the biggish drop onto the fire road where I pretty much fell out of the sky but it was all good, there were a few spectators around who all asked if I was ok and when I got up and got going again all applauded me and shouted kind words of encouragement, nice feeling that and very welcome to someone who is now beginning to struggle physically and mentally…..

Stage 3 complete.  We had 1 left, we were nearly there…….I was beginning to hallucinate about drinking beer, Kat about eating chips…….we just had to get up this last climb and then ride stage 4, a stage we know quite well as it is the red descent and we have ridden it before.

It was tougher than normal, by this time it was around 10.15, It was pitch black, I was exhausted, every muscle hurt, my hip and knee joints were giving me gip and my previously shattered ankle had pretty much clocked out to the point where the pain was so bad it had just gone numb.

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Stage 4, that final ride down was great, I just had to do this, I was nearly there, I again spoke to my bike and muttered that we just needed to fly this and we were done.  ‘Ariel’ didn’t disappoint, even though I was tired I finally felt at one with my bike, I was looking ahead, picking my route through the rooty bits and committing to my lines, ‘Ariel’ was responding and felt quick and light under me and it was at that moment, hurtling down Stage 4, that I realised that no matter how hard this race had been, what I had actually done without realising was throw myself out of my comfort zone, put myself on a steep learning curve and that is exactly what it is all about isn’t it?!  Learning, developing, improving.

Riding down the last few berms I finally got my ‘Rock star’ feeling…….the route was lined with spectators all yelling support ‘Keep pedalling’, ‘You’re nearly there’, ‘Go on’ and plenty of whoops……the way was lit and it made me smile……I’d done it, I was sore, bruised, bleeding slightly but I’d done it and as I took that beer as I crossed the line I felt like a winner….

The presentation happened and I stood back and watched the brave souls who had probably pushed themselves to their limits as well to get there, step onto the podium and collect their prizes.  The smiling chatting faces of the people who didn’t quite make it all sharing their own personal race stories was a nice sight and I stood drinking the beer that had been handed, eating my roast beef roll and reflecting………I’d come 7th out of 8……..did I care……..Nope, not even a little bit because in my head I’d finished and therefore I’d faced my fears and I’d won.

One of the organisers asked if I’d do it again as I came over the finish line and I pretty much turned the air blue with my response but on reflection………yes I most definitely would.

I’ve been sporty all my life and competed at several different things but I have never experienced such a friendly, supportive bunch of people than I have so far in the MTB world, from the QECP Marshalls who did such an amazing job to the spectators, complete strangers who offered ‘Scooby snacks of support’ all the way round it was bloody great, nobody judged and everyone gave this tryer respect as I competed in what was possibly the toughest thing I’ve done in my life.

Anyone reading this thinking of having a go my advice would be 100% DO IT.

Yes, it’s tough if you aren’t used to this sort of thing but the proud sense of achievement is a great reward on its own.  My 7 & 9 year old nephews saw the race pictures and now think I’m a hero and have made me promise to take them to the local BMX track at the weekend (watch this space for their own race reports in a few years!) the people, the friendly atmosphere, the chilled out nature of an event like this makes it golden and something that I will never forget being part of.

Yours in sport, a slightly battered, bruised, still walking like John Wayne but smiling now actually, officially an amateur mountain bike Enduro racer – Jo Tucker.

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