I can safely say that the PMBA UK National Enduro Championship was one of my most challenging races to date, and involved a lot of first’s for me. First time in the Lake District, first PMBA race, first Enduro World Series (EWS) Qualifier race, first 3 day event, first time dealing with timed transitions, and the first time riding in the Masters category.
Held over three days, using trails from the publicly available Grizedale forest and the not public Graithwait estate, meant a huge variety of trails available. I have never ridden anything in the lake district so they were all brand new to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. The 500 riders were able to practice the Grizedale stages 3-8 on Friday, which worked out at 37km and 1334m of climbing, which felt like a long day. Saturday opened up stages 1,2,9 & 10, which was a much easier 11km and 540m of climbing. That gave plenty of time to recover for the main event on Sunday. Race day bought the longest race I have ever done. Although slightly less than advertised, at 42km and 1600m of climbing, it was still a massive challenge (2016 SES Glenlivit coming close with 40km and 1170m elevation).
- Scorpion – 182m 0.96km – stage one was a brutal awakening, especially with the 7:47am start time. A long push to the top paid off for a good long run on plenty of fresh loam. Although the trails had been drying out for days, the tree roots remained greasy. That combined with the tight awkward turns made it very difficult to find flow so early in the morning, but it certainly set us up well for the rest of the day.
- Gary the Polar Bear – 91m 0.48km – Half the distance of stage 1, but making use of very similar terrain, but opens on to some very fast smooth single track through the emerging bluebell woods. Lines had to be chosen carefully though, to avoid falling straight down in to the stream that the trail followed.
- Satterthwaite DH – 76.2m 0.4km – This was one of the simpler trails but the level of flow you got from it left everyone smiling. It was smooth and packed full of features that could be taken at full speed.
- Carron Classic – 106m 0.8km – Stage 4 started in familiar loamy forest territory where agility over the roots was key, this then dropped riders on to the only section of trail centre in the whole race. A good stretch of hard-pack trail with a series of fast jumps was a great addition to the riding styles of different stages.
- The Golden S – 182m 0.9km – This stage caused the most fear in the riders, as it boasted the steepest sections. Although this was true, it was made even more difficult by the tight corners and trees to be avoided. The bottom half was a stark change of pace though as it turned in to fast smooth single track with a few fun switch backs to keep you on your toes.
- Matchells – 91.4m 0.3km – After the experience of stage 5, it was a good thing that there was only a tiny climb to stage 6, which was a beautiful meandering trail, which wound through the woodland and bluebells. Although it was the shortest stage it packed lots of fun, complete with drop features. Although this trail bought riders back down to the lowest point, meaning a very long climb back to stage 7.
- Blind Mice – 198m 1.6km – starting just alongside stage 4 saw us back in the woods, fighting with greasy tree roots again. Stage 7 also caused a number of problems for a lot of riders as it was the only trail all day which had any mud, making the roots and awkward turns even more tricky. The last third of the stage took racers across the fields on a slalom course towards Grizedale Bike Centre.
- Deerhunter – 122m 0.64km – This was perhaps one of the fastest stages of the race. It felt like a straight line dried up river bed. It basically game down to a game of holding your nerves whilst skipping over a lose boulder field at speed whilst dodging the gates in the deer fence.
- Sublime ride – 99m 0.48km – a close second to stage 5 in the amount of carnage caused, and all from one corner. The top of the stage was straight forward open hill side, but it quickly dropped in to a steep S bend with a tight catch berm which sent many riders over the handle bars. If you survived this there was then the choice between a tricky drop on to boardwalk, or a narrow twisty route through the trees. It was then clean sailing, a small river crossing, and a speedy finish.
- Sadists Surprise – 106m 0.48km – At this point in the day most riders are digging deep on their energy reserves, so it was a good thing that it was a short push to the top of stage 10. This was a difficult stage to gauge speed on, as parts of it had fast shoots, with a few rocks and roots to jump, but then there would be sudden changes in direction followed by step ups and climbs (almost impossible if you don’t get your gearing right). Then just when the finish line was in sight there was a steep hike a bike section before descending around the KS drop (closed due to wind) and over the finish line.
Unfortunately a spectacular crash on stage 5 landed me suspended in the trees and resulted in me breaking my gear shifter beyond repair. After a bit of arguing with the bike, I got it in to one gear that meant I could finish the race on a single speed bike. As I was already half way through the course I wasn’t going to give in there. However this meant struggling up all the hills and then not having any power in the peddles for the descents.
I am quite happy to say that in the end I was able to keep to my transition timings perfectly, I was also able to manage my food intake and energy expenditure across the three days pretty well, avoiding a lot of the struggles that I thought I would have this weekend.
Another first for me at this event was racing in the Masters category. Although I’m only 29, you officially enter the Masters category on the year of your 30th birthday. Up until now there hadn’t been enough women in any of the events to bother separating the Masters from the Seniors, so I had been racing as a Senior. Originally there were 14 ladies entered in to the masters category, but only 9 of us actually survived the whole weekend, which goes to show how tough this course really was. A combination of exhaustion, crashes, broken bones and bikes meant that a lot of riders either swapped to the shorter non-champs category or were simply unable to race. So at the end of the day I’m pretty damn proud to have just survived.
The event is certainly one I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It was in a beautiful location, with an amazing range of stages made even better by the brilliant weather. The event organisers kept everything running smoothly and spirits were high all weekend. There was a good turn out from the Scottish riders, but plenty of new people to get talking to, and a bank holiday Monday to recover made for the perfect racing weekend.