I’ve been wanting to try my hand at mountain bike racing for some time now. Like all experienced riders, after a while you feel comfortable riding pretty much everything at a pace you think is pretty quick. So it’s only natural I guess to start thinking it’s time to prove it in a race. I chose the 1st round of the Haibike Mini Enduro series hosted at the Forest Of Dean, on hand built off piste trails as my first race.
I primarily chose this event format because it was comparatively short compared to the full UK series. We’re talking about 4 stages taking in a total distance of 10 miles, including the connections between them, so nothing hugely long and comparable to a trail centre.
What is Enduro?
Pausing briefly, lets recap on what Enduro is? Its essentially a number of downhill courses, best ridden on a trail bike as they’re not quite as aggressive or steep as a full on downhill track. However once you’ve finished a stage, you then need to cycle to the next, before commencing that stage. Normally you’re timed on the descents as well as the connections, with you being hit with time penalties if you don’t make your transit between trails in the allotted time. Luckily the benefit of the Haibike Mini Enduro is though you have set departure times on each stage, the organisers give you more than enough time to make your way between the stages, meaning you can reduce the heart rate, eat some food and somewhat relax between stages. Few!
So what did I learn from my first Enduro?
I can get round the Monkey at Cannock Chase or the Black at Llandegla without too much of an issue. However, racing is another beast entirely. The biggest difference between the two is not the distance, but the intensity. When places are split by seconds, every pedal stroke could make or break your run. This time you’re riding the trail flat out everywhere, not coasting between sections, but flat out hard pedalling. This was the undoing for me. I haven’t ridden at this intensity before and by the end of the second stage I was done. Gone. Knackered. The now 30 minute climb up to the start of stage 3 was looking more ominous than ever! As luck would have it, stage 3 & 4 turned out to be some of the most technically challenging stages of the day and with my now depleted energy levels ended up with me just aiming to get down. I was no longer pushing, instead just trying to maintain positive momentum. Fitness, fitness, fitness. There’s no short cuts.
It’s been a while since I last raced. The last time was in Karts as a kid and the biggest lesson I learnt then had seemed to of escaped me this time; planning. I only had 12 minutes in total of timed stages to make the most of my first Enduro, yet my planning consisted of getting a decent sleep and breakfast in before I left. What I missed however was A. practising the runs. Yes, I managed to rush stage 1 & 2 in before the start, but I didn’t take the time to watch, choose my line and allow my head to get into an attacking mindset – something which was more than possibly the day before at the Saturday practise sessions, if I had planned it in. B. I also didn’t set up the bike. I turned up, clipped in and off I went. What laid ahead of me was deep, wet mud, where clipped in pedals led to constant falls, my normal tyre pressures now massively too high for the swamp like conditions and my rear suspension, too soft for the aggressive stages. Overall, combined with my now clear lack of fitness, I was losing time left right and centre. As they say, failing to plan, is planning to fail.
With any post-race strategy, reviewing and analysing what you achieved, to then improve for next time is paramount. After spending the 3-hour journey back replaying my four runs and approach to my first Enduro, I’ve now got two very obvious lessons noted above, but also more minor things. My mental approach was too relaxed, I wasn’t amped enough, and so my overall level of attack on the stages was missing which likely lost me time. There was also my technical ability on the bike. I was riding on instinct due to tiredness, not thought. I could have been so much quicker, if I engaged my brain more and thought through every corner and jump. There was more, but these were the key points. The learning though, is analysis is key. Analysis is what’s going to make for my biggest improvement in my next Enduro.
So with this all in mind, where did I finish? The answer was mid field, 39th out of 53 competitors in the senior men category. Probably slightly better than what I felt after my less than optimal performance, but does give me enough encouragement to try again and to see if I can break into the top 30s!
It’s good to be back.