Last weekend I was supposed to go to my last race of 2019, my last ever(ish) race (yes I’m done with racing, except maybe once in a blue moon for shits and giggles), I had vehicle problems on the way and unfortunately had no other option than to turn back. A month ago, I was supposed to be at round 4 of the Welsh Enduro Series but I woke with muscle ache and fatigue, barely able to crawl out of bed. 2 months ago, I was supposed to be racing ‘Ard Rock Enduro and we all know the incredibly unfortunate events that led to the cancellation of that event.
So, my last race of 2019 was the WES at Llandegla, the one where I crashed so hard in practice I could barely race (and still have an elbow that hasn’t healed) and then punctured on the top section of the first stage of racing and DNF’d. I guess this year just wasn’t meant to be. I had thought of retiring at the end of last season, maybe I should have. It’s so easy to wish things had been different.
Rather than make this a terribly morose blog post to accompany a season I didn’t enjoy I am going to look back at what mountain biking has given to me over my ‘career’ (can you call it that?).
You have to start with the friendships, right? Those long enduro transitions riding along with your competitors chatting about everything and nothing, sharing a podium with 2 of your mates with not even a second separating the 3 of you, travelling with the 4X family across Europe, one of your 4X mates jumping on a plane to come and visit you in the middle of Norway, or just the fist bumps and high fives that come at the end of every 4X race.
More than that it has brought me friends outside of racing; the absolutely fantastic community that is the Aber Uni MTB Club (you guys rock); being converted to road and gravel by the Ship & Castle 100 mile challenge and the people I met through that (or should I say in the pub); being persuaded to try my hand at criterium racing by Ystwyth CC. On top of that I can’t begin to mention all the amazing people who put so much time and effort into Gawton Gravity Hub, Woodland Riders and Carrick Riders, my time on the committees of those clubs, out at dig days, and organising events taught me so much, the awe inspiring people dedicating hours of their free time to enable people to get out on their bikes and enjoy life.
Through the years I have been racing I have also had the amazing opportunity to see the rise of the female MTB community, when I was 15 I was told that ‘girls don’t do that’, but I went on the North Wales MTB residential anyway, now look at us! Hundreds of women participating in events across the UK and the World, showing the younger generation that girls CAN do that (and so can women, no matter your age!). I have had the immense privilege of encouraging women down the renowned Super Tavi (black run) at Gawton on the Girls at Gawton weekend and also, due to my job in Halfords, the opportunity to teach women basic bicycle mechanics.
Of course, there have also been the great moments, travelling across the UK and Europe visiting locations I may never have been to otherwise; the terrifying track at JBC Revelations, surviving ‘Death Woods’ in Llangollen in the pouring rain, snatching the win in the last couple of meters before the finish line of a 4X race, standing in my GB jersey watching Katy Curd becoming 4X World Champion, winning the overall British Enduro Series Open Women, and taking the 4X Masters National Champion title are all highlights from the time I have spent racing, all stemming from that first South West DH Championships title at my first ever race (thanks again Tony for convincing me I should try racing).
But alongside those highlights there have also been the tough times and hardship, the crashes and injuries. Once, I crashed right in front of the finish line at Bala and had to grab my handle bars with one hand and wave the other hand to ‘break the beam’, I remember Monday mornings at work after a race weekend at the opposite end of the country: the fatigue from the driving, the sore muscles from racing, the realisation that life just goes on despite all the intensity and excitement of the weekend. Making those tough decisions that come with racing, accepting the mistakes you made on your race run, the wrong lines, the wrong decisions, those few seconds where you could have dug that tiny bit deeper, the decision to continue chainless rather than stopping to put it back on. The crashes, the rain, the wet, the mud, the cold.
Yes, there have been highs and lows, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world and none of it would have been possible without the support of my sponsors throughout the years. I know you are supposed to say that, but I could never have afforded to race without Stanton Bikes or Flow MTB, between them they have helped me with bikes, equipment, spares, kit and race entry. They have been there to support me through the highs and lows, through the emotions of race day, through the disappointment and success. I cannot thank you enough. I also have to thank all those race organisers, commissaires, marshals, trail builders and countless other volunteers that make this sport what it is. No matter how much the mtbers whinge, you are amazing.
So that’s it. It feels a bit weird to finish this blog post, as a kind of final commitment, but I know that I will still be out on my bike, I will still bump into riding buddies all over the country, and knowing me I will still show my face and my battered hardtail at a few select events over the next few years (I will, after all be a Vet next year…). Maybe I should finish with a photo from this year, taking the win in my hometown of Aberystwyth, reminding myself that although it didn’t work out how I had hoped it was still pretty awesome too.