To ride? Or not to ride? That was the question.

After a fun race at the Southern Enduro Champs two weeks ago, I was starting to look forward to three days of riding in the Lake District in the PMBA National Enduro Champs.

A few days after the Southern race, I headed out on a sunny and dry evening to ride a mate’s secret DH track cut into a local hillside. On the third or fourth run, near the top, I caught my pedal on a small tree stump on the inside of a corner and before I could register what happened, I was flung out the front door landing hard on my left shoulder. It was one of those occasions where you don’t even have time to get your arms out to brace for impact so it took the full force of gravity bringing me back to Earth. It was also one of those occasions where you pick yourself up and for a minute or two, you’re not quite sure if you’ve broken anything on your body. When I realised after a short while, it wasn’t broken, my first thought was “phew, thank feck for that!”, then my second thought was that I didn’t need this with just over a week until the biggest race of the year!

That happened on the Wednesday night and by Monday morning, there was no real improvement. It hurt to lift or push and I seriously started to think that it won’t be good for racing on the coming weekend. I messaged PMBA on Facebook and as expected, if I bailed then it was too late for a refund, but I could transfer details up til Wednesday night…as I was due to be heading up early Thursday morning, it was going to be a late call. I messaged Southwest Syndicate team mate, Nick Vail, to see if he could sub in but he was already signed up to a DH race so I messaged another riding mate who potentially wanted to race, but it was too late for him to get time off work.

Well then…do I go or not?!  Make a decision!

The shoulder healed a bit over the next couple of days but was still not great so figuring I had nothing to lose (accommodation, race entry, train tickets were all paid in advance), I decided to commit. With two days of practice before race day, I’d dose up on Ibuprofen and paracetamol to get through and could always skip a practice day or, it might even improve further by race day itself. If all fails, I’d be in the Lake District on a sunny and dry bank holiday weekend surrounded by bikes and beer… so couldn’t really lose.

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So off I went on on the 6.45am train to Plymouth to hook up with Southwest Suyndicate team mate Lawrence and his bro Nick, where we piled everything in to the car headed north to the land of lakes and big hills.  It was on.

Friday Practice

With the race day loop stretching 44km (reduced from the initial 55km) between Lake Windermere and Coniston Water, practice was split into two days. Day one was stages 3 – 8 over on the Grizedale Forest side and Saturday would be a shorter loop practicing stages 1 – 2 and 9 – 10.

Yeah that’s right…10 timed stages for race day (stage descriptions here).

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Photo: Dialed In UK

Pilled up on pain relief and with an offensive amount of Deep Heat sprayed on my shoulder, we headed out to practice. I raced Grizedale two years ago when the UK Gravity Enduro Series visited so was expecting to ride some slightly familiar trails but with my mind on my shoulder and my shoulder on my mind, I rode Saturday very tentatively. It wasn’t particularly painful (thanks to the drugs!) but I could feel it and really struggled mentally to commit to anything. 20 miles and over 4,000 ft of climbing later, I was knackered and in a negative head sapce, even giving some consideration of dropping out of the full Champs loop.

Saturday Practice

A shorter loop today, this time on the Graythwaite Estate where the arena was centred, and this one involved a lot of pushing bikes up hills! Feeling slightly more positive in my mind we headed out for a relaxed single loop of today’s stages. Stage 10 had something I’ve never had before on an enduro stage…a 10m high push-up/hike-a-bike towards the end but it meant the stage could finish with the KS Drop, a choice of 3 ladder drop hucks of varying sizes down a big grass slope and across the finish line. The big one, was BIG and even the medium one wasn’t something to take for granted and it did catch many people out with a few broken bikes and bones happening!  With my dodgy shoulder, I reluctantly but wisely kept it to the small drop in practice, but it bugged me I didn’t do the medium drop as I would have done normally.

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Photo: Dialed In UK

With a big day ahead on Sunday, we opted not to do a second lap and headed back to the cottage we were staying in to fuel up on some awesome but ridiculous amount of pasta and chorizo…and some local ales of course.  It made a nice change to be staying in comfort on a race weekend rather than making do in a tent for a change.

Race day

An earlyish start on Sunday, it was a bit grey and a bit blowy out but with the forecast for sun later and I was looking forward to riding. The shoulder was still a bit sore but less immediately on my mind so my aim was to keep it fairly tidy for the day and just enjoy the stages. With my Camelbak packed to the rafters with food and energy gels (probably the most I’ve ever taken on a ride with me!), I headed up to the top of Stage 1.

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A long day in the saddle on race day

The first stage went horrendously for me. I stalled several times in the roots near the top and got caught by the guy behind so had to let him past. Stage 2 wasn’t much better and I nearly went over the bars when I couldn’t get the front wheel up over the drainage channel just before the finish line.  The impact went right up my arm and through my shoulder causing me to wince.  Not a good start but gotta keep going!

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What a venue… worthy of it’s EWS qualifier status

I made some costly mistakes on stage 3 and it wasn’t until Stage 4 when I got a clean run in. ‘Super Steep’ Stage 5 was going well until I lost the front on a steep right hander, right in front of a brutal crowd of hecklers (cheers guys) but the quick Stage 6 went by without issue and on the awkward Stage 7 top half, I had probably as many stalls as most people. Stage 8 was uneventful ina  good way, Stage 9 was played safe and Stage 10 went by without problem.  With some gusty winds getting stronger, the larger two drops were shut off so everyone had to ride the small one, which was something I was kinda pleased about considering!  I crossed the line, got a quick interview from Kev Duckworth who said I still looked fresh (I certainly didn’t feel like it!), and handed my transponder in whilst downing the free beer handed out at the finish.

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Keeping it low on Stage 4 through the jumps (Photo: Dialed In UK)

So after 7 hours of riding, I ended up finishing in 93rd place out of 120 in Masters. I’d normally be very disappointed with that but considering I was so close to pulling out of the race because of the injury, I felt more stoked just to have had a good day out on the bike, and a good weekend out riding with mates.

The whole venue, stages and organisation seemed worthy of an Enduro World Series qualifier event and although a tough day out, it was still masses of fun.  It sounds like next year the Champs will be in Scotland, so I’m already looking forward to it and finger’s crossed I won’t bugger up myself a week before again.

Big thanks to Velo-Smith, RSF Suspension, RAD8 MTB Glasses and Performance MTB UK for the support.

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