So I did it. Round 1, Ballinastoe, was Sunday just gone (13th of Feb). The race went well. I'm honestly really happy with how I got on. But let's start at the start.
So in spite of not sleeping well the night before the race we were up and ready to go pretty much on time. I say we because my wife (Hannah) is also partaking in this race series. We mix our glucose drinks, grab our gear, and go. We arrive a little after 11am. The race starts at 1pm. These two hours are spent getting our race numbers and warming up. Thankfully it's not raining, although it had been wet all night.
1pm rolls around and we line up. Myself and Hannah wish each other luck, and the start is called. I immediately dig too deep. I push hard up the fireroad. The first climb is a killer. I know it's horrible. I've walked it many times before. My head goes down, today I'll make this climb. I shift into my easiest gear and spin my legs. I've lost a lot of places, but soon the climb eases out and I can see a descent approaching. I'm in a group of riders all going at a fair pace. I could go faster downhill, but that's not what I'm here to do. I won't do any dangerous overtaking, I'll just be patient. We cruise on down some new singletrack and launch off a few little kickers for fun.
The rest of the race goes much like this. I manage to make the next climb, cruise a strip of singletrack, and grind out a climb. Much to my amazement I'm passing people on the climbs. Jovial conversation is had. Asking people what their goals are, how they're getting on, giving them advice for upcoming sections. We make it to the top of the third fireroad climb. It's a double track descent ahead leading into a tight singletrack hairpin with a technical climb. I spot a rider up ahead. Fuck it. I'll get him on the double track before the tech climb.
Head down, I start to sprint. I know what's coming. If I pass him and he catches me on the tech climb, I'll pull over. But I've got him in a sprint to the next section. I see the thin strip of dirt rising to my left, shift back into an easy gear and brake slightly for a nice tech turn. The next few hundred meters or so is twisty rooty stuff with a bit of an incline. Pedal position matters. A pedal strike is easy to happen and will take all your speed. I pick my lines and push. Further down the trail I can ease up and look back. The guy behind me is nowhere to be seen. This boosts my confidence and I push through on the climb. I pass an elite rider who had a puncture on their first lap. He doesn't want help. I crest the climb and spot a man with a camera. I try to look like I'm having fun and exchange words with him. Adrian Van Der Lee was his name. He got some great shots, and I've included the one he got of me below. Then we point downhill and go full sprint for a bit.
A few more sections of singletrack and fire road and I catch a glimpse of my partner disappearing down a trail ahead of me. I push to try and catch her but there's a tough climb coming up. One I've been dreading. But I put my head down and spin my legs. I haven't walked yet. I'm not going to walk without a fight. I push and notice I've gotten to a part of the climb I recognise. The trail loops back on itself, so we're currently getting passed by elite riders out on their second lap. I'm on the homeward run now. One final push.
I finally catch up to Hannah and she and the lady she was battling kindly pull aside and let me pass. I open up my book of matches, look at the last last one and strike it. Push hard. It's almost over now. I flow through some beautiful berms and over some lovely floaty jumps. I'm settle into my groove when behind me I hear "Rider incoming!!". I pull over as the leader of the elite race sprints passed. I'm about to go again when I hear "And another one". Turns out first and second are damn close. (They finished 3 seconds apart). I get back to my race. I flow through the remaining sections of trail with what's left of my energy.
I turn the last corner and realise it's uphill to the finish. I mash the pedals willing the finishline to come... I cross the finish line with my goals achieved. I pedalled the entire race, and I didn't take a single break to rest. I'm ecstatic. My lungs burn, everything hurts, but I'm happy with how I've done. 2 minutes later I see Hannah approaching. She makes it up the final climb and is done. Both of us are completely spent. But a great day was had.
Trail Length: 14km
Finish Time: 01:11:17
Finish Position: 74 out of 82 finishers
Special thanks to Biking.ie for organising this race series and running a lovely, family friendly, and novice friendly series. Next race is round 2 in Ballyhoura Co. Limerick on the 27th. Hopefully I'll see you on the trails, and best of luck.