So having returned from Livigno feeling like I could rival Ratboy in the skill stakes (that may have been the Aperol Spritz talking!) I thought it an opportune moment to tackle one of Britain’s best and most well attended Enduro events; cue me and 3 riding buddys rocking up at ‘Ard Rock Enduro nr Swaledale in the awesome Yorkshire Dales. Having bought some new XT brakes (excellent kit) I arrived at the event campsite bright and early to fit them to my clean and well fettled bike, this went surprisingly well and left me with a warm fuzzy feeling as my mates arrived to see me set up like a king in the Camper van, beer in hand and Stumpy raring to be ridden.
So onto Saturday ‘practice’; fabulous weather and all of us in a positive frame of mind saw us fly up the first climb and all clean the first timed stage with huge smiles and possibly even just a little bit of style; drifting through steep turns in a normally closed quarry immediately showed us just how special ‘Ard Rock is. We pushed on (sometimes literally as it got very steep!) in positive spirits finding a lovely pub for a spot of lunch and some minor mechanical fettling. Timed stage 3 came and went with the same helpings of awesome technical rocky descents and swooping grassy singletrack but then came the sting in the tail, stages 4 and 5 saw some brutal and long transitions with some difficult and tight climbs, the hike a bike up to stage 4 being particularly noteworthy! Undeterred we pressed on and as we crested stage 5 transition and saw the grassy descent through toppled down signature Yorkshire dales dry stone walls our spirits lifted; the camp was in sight and it was reached by a great looking final timed stage. Tired but suitably enthused we all cleared the stage and made it back to camp exhausted but satisfied. It was at this point we bumped into Joe Reynolds, event organiser, general MTB expert and all round good bloke, he asked how the day had gone and upon our explaining we had completed the whole course he looked somewhat shocked and said ‘most people don’t do that in Practice, in fact we made it longer to put people off!’. We shrugged this off and headed back to the van for some burgers, beer and sleep.
Sunday dawned with drizzle and cloud and the 4 of us feeling rather tired with Joe Reynold’s words echoing in our head; nonetheless we hopped onto the bikes and peddled off for our 10am start. The first climb was a different proposition on Race day, we were much slower, there was very little banter and we eventually slogged to the top of the first time stage. It was here I sat back a little and ‘had a word with myself’ my concentration was wavering and I was struggling to hit any clean lines which didn’t bode well for the descent! Suitably mentally fortified I reminded myself how fast we had rode this descent yesterday and set myself the challenge of beating yesterdays run (in the shape of overtaking my slightly faster mate!). Things started ok with the top steep & loose gravel section allowing me to build some confidence back; that was until I went into one corner just a little too fast lost the back of the bike and only just managed to stay onboard, confidence shaken again! Another little internal chat to psyche myself up and I put the hammer down again dropping into, the by now very sloppy, rutted grassy switchbacks on the lower slopes; then it happened. Lacking in confidence but bursting with bravado I tried to rail each switchback harder than the last but then confronted with a nasty looking rutted muddy drop-off my confidence ran out and I stupidly grabbed a handful of front brake whilst pointing across a turn, downhill in mud; cue an acrobatic excursion over the bars and an unfortunate landing on top of the bike; I immediately knew I was quite badly injured but nonetheless got back in the saddle and gingerly picked my way to the bottom. At this point the marshals pointed out there was blood dripping down my frame from my elbow and left leg and that perhaps they should check me out, I tried to step off the bike and immediately realised my left thigh was badly numb and I couldn’t really move, falling to the ground ungracefully was not in the plan but was the only option. The marshals patched up my scars and with bravado kicking back in I tried to soldier on; I made it about 200 yards up the next climb before realising I was in a bad way, dejected and frankly furious with myself I made my apologies and goodbyes to my mates and slowly wheeled the mile downhill back to the event site, handed in my timing chip and went back to the van.
My mates arrived back 5hrs later brimming with stories but absolutely shattered; I busied myself with cooking whilst they recounted the day; I didn’t really want to hear it, I was still kicking myself for such a rookie mistake but slowly as the night wore on (and beer was consumed) I started to accept it for what it was and get involved in the banter. By now my thigh was twice its normal size and a healthy shade of purple; needless to say the 6 hr drive back to Bristol in a 1980s VW Camper with the world’s heaviest clutch didn’t help! This crash has cost me 2 months off my bike and multiple physio sessions to heal what I now know to be a severe quadratic haematoma (really really bad dead leg to you and me!) but it has prompted me to think a little about how I approach our sport. I have always known that you need as much confidence as you do skill and that having the ‘kahunas’ to look ahead let the bike run and flow faster through technical stuff is the way to gain speed but what I have now learnt is that when confidence turns to bravado it must be tempered; a little bit of self awareness does no harm and I now know I overstretched myself in the run up to the race and indeed on the day.
Endurance mountain biking is about 2 forms of balance, the obvious one with you and the bike staying the right way up; and the less obvious one of knowing your own limits and knowing when to push yourself to those limits (and maybe just beyond them so you get faster!), get that right and you have amazing days on the bike, get it wrong and you get 2 months of physio!
I’m back on the bike now and have a long weekend of Welsh riding coming up (Bike Park Wales is well worth the trip by the way!), here’s hoping I strike the right balance in every sense!