Making the step up to national championship level racing is hard enough without brutal storm conditions turning it into one of the toughest races in recent British Championship BEC enduro history. Let me tell the tail…
The BEC enduro was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 6 hours in the saddle with zero breaks or food stops and a track that entailed largely dirty, dirty, muddy, rutty, rooty and boggy woodland. I’m mega chuffed with myself for sticking with it and making it around but honestly, I felt a tad broken by the end. But I was still smiling!
Honestly, I didn’t over think the decision to race my first British Championship. Previously I’d done several Rallymoto races and a round of the Scottish Championship, I’ve been riding and training hard. Trying the BEC enduro just felt like a logical next step. Whether I would make it or survive was on the periphery of my mind, I wasn’t there to win, I was there to ride and enjoy the experience. Push myself to a new challenge. Other people manage it so why can’t I give it ago? Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen? I don’t make the finish line? At least I would have a crack trying, hopefully have a fun day riding and maybe make some new friends.
But what I didn’t expect was quite how brutal the race would be. Talk about jumping in the deep end. At 5 points I was near thigh deep in mud with a 96kg bike suctioned in like a dead elephant. The organisers had set some pretty painfully tight check point times and I was constantly on catch up.
To put it into perspective… Of 73 riders in clubman 37 of us did not finish…that’s half the riders DNF!! That just shows how mental and physical it was. Storm Ciara certainly gave us a battering too. It was demanding in a way I’ve never experienced. And when the fatigue kicks in you start to make little mistakes, which cost even more energy.
I was riding a new 2020 Husqvarna TE 250i and so it really is pretty race ready on buying, at least for my level of riding. I put on some new Metzeler rubber and of course all the usual like fresh oil and air filters. My next prep is getting the right weighted WP suspension spring on as that will hugely help – I’m not the average 85 kg rider.
The atmosphere when we arrived on Saturday was one of busy anticipation. I was amazed by how many people were there. Mega vans and race wagons parked as far as the eye could see. The whole course walking was a new thing for me, and I was amazed by how seriously it’s taken. Some, walking each test as many as three times and even using Strava to track the route to help them memories the ‘left, left, right, left’ turns of the course.
My intention was to walk both special tests on Saturday, however…our van had a different idea. Halfway there the front brake calliper seized on. Wheel off on the side of the road we got it released but it took a chunk of the day light. We managed to walk the second test and just had to go with it for the first test.
Given the terrain was not highly technical it didn’t make me feel too nervous. I wasn’t there to win so it probably wouldn’t help me too much anyway. It’s a lesson for next time – get there earlier!
I’d previously done three timecard events, so it wasn’t new but still used some brain power to work out. You have a series of check points and the time you need to make them by. Sounds simple right? Add a storm and some very tight times…then it’s not so simple. By check point one I was only a few minutes behind but by the end of the day I was 75 minutes behind, meaning I didn’t make the final check point start time.
I kept my timecard tucked in my backpack strap pocket and actually got praise from marshals for how clean it was. But having this to hand is important for check points.
Oh my, I can still feel the terror and throbbing beat of my heart as I sat on the start line. There were people everywhere and my time to leave was fast approaching. In those moments my mind seems to dramatize everything, questioning what on earth I’m doing there. But, then you start and within 5-10 minutes I seem to find my flow and forget about the fears. I’m out there alone, just me and my bike and I’m riding tackling the terrain 10 metres at a time. I love that feeling, especially with the whole track ahead of me.
My first impressions of the track was probably being a little surprised by how tight it was with the trees. I was lucky to not clip my knuckles, but I saw many plastic bike parts and notches out of trees where others had had close encounters. It required full concentration and lots of leaning the bike twisting between the trees. I loved the big berm corners, something the day gave me great practice at trying to power through.
Lap one was definitely the best part as the heavens had not yet opened. The puddles were deep but manageable, the ground gave traction and the mass of roots were not yet too exposed. But by lap two the conditions really had worsened, making for some tough survival riding for me.
I’ve love to say I smashed the timed special tests, but I would be lying to myself. I did ride them harder than the rest of the track. Pushing myself to ride faster with more aggression, but I think ultimately by lap 2 I was feeling so exhausted and the track had turned so nasty that it was more of a survival. Plus, with my historical injuries [reconstructed shoulder and hip] I always try to ride within my limits, hopefully to mitigate a nasty fall. So, I didn’t ride them like a nutter. My times were respectable in the group, despite a couple of muddy tumbles so I’m proud. I know I can do better! But that’s the beauty of learning and pushing.
Oh my, the weather. About mid-way through Storm Ciara seriously upped her game and us riders could feel it. The wind whipped sideways, and on some sections in a terrifying way. I recall moving about 2m sideways in a split second and one point, I slowed down! Then there was the rain. The track, which on lap one had been quite light and fluffy with lovely berm corners…that was a thing of the past by lap two. Much of the track had turned to a mud pit and flowing river. With such a narrow course and so many sections seeing trees on both sides kissing your handlebar guards, it forced everyone to ride in one line. Digging a deep nasty rut and no way to avoid it. The deep puddles that we survived in lap 1 were like venus-fly traps just waiting to eat us bikers.
At one point I was stuck, stuck. No way was I getting out on my own, I just didn’t have the strength no matter how hard I tried. As I stood there continuing to tug, try leverage, even sticks, I came to realise that I just didn’t have the strength to get out on my own. But I wasn’t the only one.
A rider would come in. Suction would win, the mud taking another victim and I’d watch for a few minutes until I knew they had exhausted their efforts for escape before going over and offering help. Note my bikes clearly stick behind me… using what little energy I had left I helped get the first biker free. Covered in mud, and then he just rode off. Oh…maybe be didn’t see my bike. Second biker, same story, I helped them out and they rode off. Third biker stuck, yet more energy helping them and he rides off without a consideration for my bike wheel deep in mud. He didn’t even thank me. Starting to lose faith in humans, biker four gets stuck… and again I help him. But this time, he’s Josh Gotts, currently in head to head for 1st place…but he had the time to stop and help me. It amazed me that the guy with the most to lose had the time to help me. He reinstalled my faith in our species. Thank you Josh.
The reality I believe, is not that the guys didn’t want to return the favour, it was that the time checks given for this event were so ridiculously tight that they just could not afford to help me. Which is fair enough. I got out in the end with my knight in shining ‘mud’!
My worst moment was on lap two, I’d not seen anyone for ages and ages… and then it happened. I scouted my line…braaped forwards and boom. I was air filter deep in a dirty, sludgy, muddy rut. And I wasn’t going anywhere. I tried to push out with the engine but quickly realised all I was doing was digging my grave deeper. Tugging at the front I couldn’t even wiggle it and the back was even worse. I looked about hoping for a glimpse of a marshals bright yellow off into the trees but there was nothing. No sounds, not engines or voices. A wave of…oh blimey, I’m stuck in the woods on my own, swept through my body. Yikes. Thankfully a marshal appeared. My hero.
A second scary moment saw me underneath my bike for about 4 minutes…in the mud. I’d fallen sideways on a muddy rutty corner and my whole leg was trapped under the bike. My head was downhill in the mud and I was pinned. Again, silence, not a sole around, I couldn’t even see a darn squirrel, they were probably smart enough to stay in bed with Storm Ciara. Anyway, I lay there trying to push the bike off me but at the angle I was pinned. I worked out that I could just get my heel close enough to push off the handlebars, slightly lifting the weight off the bike enough to wiggle little by little until I was free. I was grateful Husky build some solid bar controls! Released, I picked my bike up relieved to be free and giggling to myself that I was so pinned… and we rode on. It wasn’t my day to die alone in the woods thankfully.
I’ve been off roading for maybe 20 months now [spread across 4 years with three hip surgeries…] so for me it was never about winning. I was there to suck up the experience, progress my riding, enjoy the terrain and push myself. Saying that, given I was soaked through to my undies having given my waterproof jacket to a random spectator in a hot sweat, and getting to the point of exhaustion where I was falling off for almost no reason at all. Total fatigue had set in, and I was 100% in survival mode. Kicking myself to stay focused and pushing on. Stopping was never a thought that crossed my mind as I had set out to finish and I wasn’t going to give in. But oh boy I was looking forward to making that finish line! It was like I wanted it to end but loved it all at the same time. It was brutal.
Thinking about my best moment, it’s probably the happy faces on the marshals at each check point. Each time I made one I felt like high fiving myself inside, so chuffed to be making progress, and the marshals were always so friendly and happy to see me, reassuring me I was doing great. Maybe it was my muddy face they were actually just laughing at, but I really enjoyed their energy and smiles.
I think my second-best moment was lap two, special test two. I’d done it before, so I knew roughly what was coming…or did I!? I power around the corner and OMG! There in front of me, entirely crossing the path was a massive pine tree. It was huge. Probably 30m. Storm Ciara had clearly been here. My immediate reaction was to get to the other-side, I knew I couldn’t leave the tapped course to go around it so I went for it. Heart racing, compressing the suspension, popping the front wheel and brapping. The world almost slowed down as I popped over it. YES! As I rode away, I felt a huge flood of giggles inside for having conquered it. I then spent the next minute working out if anyone had a chainsaw and who saw it come down, how lucky no one was under it. And then I remembered I was in a race… focus Vanessa!
The obvious one is I need to get a lot faster! But I think there are three key things I will do before my next race:
Firstly, I would have two sets of goggles as my roll offs jammed mid lap one leaving me to ride the rest without goggles…which was actually torture on the road liaison, the rain was like needles to my eyeballs.
Secondly, having someone in the pits to shove some food down your throat, refuel for you and make sure your goggles are okay. Even if it just gives me a three-minute chill it would have helped. When you’re slow you don’t get any rest and so 6 hours with one bite of food was tough.
Thirdly, I need to get stronger! When your bike is stuck in a bog you need more strength than recovering off a rocky hill side. I’m going to work on my dead lifts and get stronger. My body weight to bike ratio might be weakness for me but I know I can get stronger. Time to hit the gym even harder!
But, I think the most important lesson I learned is that I can do it. I could dig deep and keep riding. Continuing when I knew the time was running out but determined not to quit. Carry on even soaked through and exhausted. It’s an amazing inner drive to make it to the end, even if the end was timing out with a dnf. I learned that I’m stronger than I imaged before.
HELL YES I would do it again. Maybe that’s a sadistic flare deep inside or maybe it’s just the love for riding I have. If we don’t push ourselves, we don’t grow!
If you’re new to my page – it’s more than just dirt bike riding and racing, I’m on a mission to prove that nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough. See more about my story plus read about my life changing accident, which started it all.