My First Off-road Race (Race #9)

Today (Sunday 15 March) I was supposed to have done a team time trial, but through bad organization we didn't manage to get our form in on time. So instead I went for a ride in Thetford Forest with my boyfriend Simon and friend Tony. Tony picked us up from our place at about 10:30 (since his car takes 3 bikes, and our place is on the way from his place to the forest), and we were in the forest rolling around by 11:45.

The riding went like this: Tony, Simon, and I are about equally fit, but they aren't as good at the technical stuff as I am, so I'd fly ahead, and at every junction I'd wait for them to catch up. We were having a good time. Although it was cloudy there was no rain, and the temperature was about 10C (50 deg F), so we were plenty warm and dry.

As we rode around, we noticed that there were lots of pieces of tape and signs marking a race course. Some guys passed us (not racers, they didn't have numbers on). When asked, they said that there was indeed a race today. There are often races in Thetford Forest, as it has some ace singletrack. No hills, but that's what you get here in East Anglia...

I thought: if there's a women's race, I'd like to try it. So we wandered over to the registration area, getting there about 1pm. There was indeed a women's race starting at 1:30. The beginners/fun race had gone off in the morning, so I was told I had a choice of Pro/Elite, Sport, or Masters. All of them would be doing 2 laps of the 7 mile course. Being that I had never done an off-road race before I thought that Pro/Elite was not a good idea, and you have to be 29 years or younger to race Sport. So, being that I'm 32, Masters it was. There were 3 women signed up for Sport, one for Pro/Elite, and none for Masters, so it was a sure win for me if I did the race. The entry fee was 12 pounds, but they told me that the prize money was more than the entry fee. So I figured I'd give it a go, as long as Simon and Tony were willing to stay that long in the forest. They were, and Simon had the 12 pounds on him, so I registered and ate all the granola (cereal) bars we'd brought with us, even though I was't feeling all that hungry. I knew I would need it, as I hadn't had lunch.

The Sports and I started together. I got into third place, with one Sport behind me. But they were fitter, and the last Sport rider passed me soon after the start. So I was last of the people I'd started with. It was a bit depressing being last. The thought crossed my mind that I could drop out. But the riding was good, and if I quit I wouldn't get my prize money. Besides, there was still a chance of passing one of the Sport riders if she crashed or had mechanical trouble. So I kept up the pace, riding on the edge of what I was capable of doing for an extended period. On the fire road sections (which comprised maybe 1/3 of the course) I made sure I drank some, and I was glad I'd brought Gatorade instead of just water.

When I ride in Thetford Forest I occasionally lose control in the singletrack. This is because the faster you go, the more fun it is, so I'm usually pushing it. But then I'm also taking breaks and recovering after these fast bits. In a race you keep going, so I soon found that I was having no trouble at all in the singletrack. I was too tired to go fast enough to whipe out.

Into the second lap, I got passed by a bunch of fast guys -- the Haro team, whom I'd seen warming up on wind trainers under the Haro canopy. They must be the Pro/Elites... Every now and then one of the other guys who started with that pack passed me. I got good at listening for them, and when they got close I would pull a little ways off the track and say "Go".

Very close to the end I was passed by a Haro woman. Finally the finish line was in sight. I put on all the speed I could muster as I crossed the line, wanting to put on a good show for the finish. Simon and Tony were there to greet me, having spent the intervening time riding around at their own pace. Simon (who had timed me) said I'd done the race in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 15 seconds. I was really beat, and after getting off the bike I wanted to do nothing more than flop in the grass. I did, and after a few seconds took off my helmet, since it put my neck at a funny angle.

Eventually I recovered enough to get up, and Tony bought us all some tea from the nearby burger van. Talking to people at the race, I found out that the womam who'd passed me just before the end, thus finishing a minute or two before me, had started only five minutes after our group, with the Pro/Elites. So in the entire race she had gained only 6 or 7 minutes on me!

When all the riders were finished I collected my prize money (15 pounds, a 3 pound profit for the day) and we went home.

Oh, here's a neat bit of trivia: the front wheel I was riding on is one I had built myself (out of an XT hub, Mavic 217 rim, and DT double butted stainless spokes, in a 3-cross pattern). Actually it is the first wheel I've ever made, and this was its first off-road ride. In fact the only riding I had done on it before the trip to Thetford was to ride it to work (a round trip of 5 miles) to show it off. It served me fine, being just as true after the ride/race as it was before. I am very proud of it.