First off, let me apologize for the delay in this blog post. Unfortunately, while I had the best of intentions to write the full report up the week after the race, I was pretty tired. And then, as is to be expected, life got in the way. Excuses aside, here is my report of the final round of the Biking Blitz, round 7 held on Sunday April 24th
Sunday morning was the last round of the Blitz. A challenge from start to finish they left us with a sting in the tail. This was to be 28km long for the Novice riders. The longest race by far and we had to do it the day after a punchy 14km race.
We loaded up the car from the B&B and drove over to Kinnity Castle. A lot had changed from when we were last there, they've a decent carpark and some lovely wooden benches. And the race village was right in the center of everything. Quickly grabbed a coffee and spotted Noel. Had a quick chat with him and thanked him for a great race the previous day. Martin spotted us and came over for a chat too. The sense of community really shone that morning. There were a crew there offering free bike checking and we got them to give Hannah's gears a once over. Hannah dropped over to Kirsty and gave her some sweets for all the help she'd been the previous day.
Before long we were called to the start and we all lined up. The count down began and soon we were off. I knew the start would be tough. It's a long climb to the top, so I positioned myself mid pack in the hopes that the energy would carry me some of the way. In a shock to nobody, I fell right back to the back of the pack. As Noel passed me on the opening double track before the first single-track of the day he sighed an exasperated "Already? Surely not this early." I laughed as he passed. "I hide my lack of fitness well." We had a short punchy climb to get us to the first fire road. There was a kicker at the end of it and someone had stopped at the top. I asked if they were okay, they said they were, and I carried on as best I could watching the race pull away. This was going to be me, on my own. It was going to be tough, but clear road meant I didn't have to worry about someone else's mistakes tripping me up.
It's a long and arduous climb to the second bit of single-track. I saw a man on an luminous orange hard tail ahead of me get closer and closer as the climb creeped on. I hoped to catch him by the first big descent. I didn't. If I pushed on the decent though, I'd catch him without issue. I love the first trail it's fast and flowy with lots of tables and doubles and berms. I got onto the dirt and pushed as best I could. I made a couple of the jumps, and spotted Adrian hidden at a section where you drop from the open scrub into the forest proper. I launched as best I could for a nice photo, and then was nearly caught out by the next double, clipping my front wheel and just getting away with it. I'd later learn that Hannah had the exact same thing happen her, but she crashed unfortunately. Thankfully it was just a scraped knee and she carried on without any issues.
This climb sucks. It just keeps going. It's not hard, nor does it zap all your energy. It just sits there teasing you until the next trail. While I trundled up it the first two ebikes blasted past me. Then another two, and finally the last one. As I saw the next trail approaching, I glanced back to see 4 of the elite field bearing down on me 2 wide at a hell of a sprint. I was glad to see them enter the next trail ahead of me. And it looked like there was decent clear road behind them, so I might be able to avoid being passed on the downhill.
Next downhill got some way through it, but it eventually pointed up and I had to let riders pass me. Everyone was kind and patient. I'd say "Pass on the right" and they would all thank me and wish me well. Once, maybe twice, I had to stop rolling to let a few people by. Usually we could safely navigate it with everyone rolling. I glanced back as I exited out onto old double track by the ruins of a house or shed and spotted another three behind me. They were able to pass before the trail got narrow again. Then we were back into trails and flowing downhill. I tried to keep up with some people but I was dropped easily. This section exited onto a fire road where Novice racers were directed to the right.
At this point I was fully alone. Things get a little hazy in my memory. I remember being pointed down some shared path to rejoin a fire road. This then rejoined the inward part of the elite trail. Unfortunately the tape had been moved, or wasn't clear and some confusion was had. I doubled back to make sure I hadn't missed a turn, I hadn't, and upon returning to the tape across the path came to the conclusion that it must be where the elites rejoined. I continued along the fire-road and focussed on making it around. I later learned that Hannah was part of a group who climbed the trail before realizing it was the wrong way and added a good kilometer to the already long race. However just up the fire road we descended into the valley proper.
These trails are sweeping and offer you some beautiful views of the Slieve Blooms. Nature Valley and Valley Run, the subsequent climb leading into Secret Squirrel and Yeti are some spectacular sections of trail. I enjoyed this section as much as I could. This included one moment where I almost ran out of trail, skill, and ability all at the same time. This is what happens when you pop off a drop and conveniently ignore the left corner just beyond it. There was a long drop the far side of it and I backed off just a smidge. However it wasn't long before I regained my confidence.
As I picked my way down I heard voices behind me. I was very confused because I didn't expect anyone from the elite or ebike field to have caught me again. They hadn't. A group of riders all passed me, they'd gotten confused at the tape crossing and had gone off course by a long way. I let faster riders pass when it was safe to do so and we made our way to the bottom. At the bottom there is a long, and I mean long, climb back to the top. It's a steady fire-road climb of 158m over 2.5km. This I knew would be a killer. It was a weak point every other time I'd ridden these trails. I was joined on this climb for a brief period by a jovial marshall. He'd been relieved of his post and was cruising back by bike. Seemed sensible to him to bring his bike. We chatted about the course and the quality of the field. Part way up we saw a racer stopped up. He was cramping bad, so the marshall stopped to give him some food. I wished them both well and plodded on. My banana long finished and nursing my electrolyte drink, I kept spinning my pedals.
I reached what I thought would be the top, but the tape said otherwise. Normally at a fire-road junction about 1km into the climb you can turn left an follow the single-track back to the start.The course designers had on final sting in the tail marked out as we were directed right and pointed at another 1500m of road. This was tough. It was even tougher at one point as the trail takes you into the woods, but to get in you have to climb a short sharp incline to get to the top of the bank. As I was grunting and moaning my way up this two walkers passed me. I'd previously passed them hollering and having fun. The man shouted "No more whee's now, eh?" as I finally crested the climb. I felt elated. I was certain the trail would point down soon. And soon enough it did just that.
The final descent was, to put it lightly, spectacular. It's the most recent trail in the the network, Space Jam. It is a rocky, bermy, jumpy concoction that's 3.5km of pure descent. Had I been any more energetic I'm certain I would have found the rhythm of the trail and had an absolute blast. That's not to say I didn't, I just relied too much on my suspension to smooth out the rough stuff and didn't use my legs or arms enough. I tried, when I saw a feature or rock garden approaching, to time the jump or floaty body position correctly. More often than not I just rattled my way through. As I was descending some spectators were making their way up the trail. That shouted encouragement at me to "Go for it!" as they stood beside a jump. I did. It was amazing. I was filled with energy and excitement and attacked the rest of the descent. The final trail was a climb back around to Kinnity Castle where the start/finish line was. I was passed by a few of the elites on this section, but there was plenty of room. As I crossed the finish line I heard the commentator say "Here comes one of the last of the Novice riders, cheer him on, he's had a long day out!" and he wasn't wrong. The cheer from those in the race village was great as I finally crossed the line.
I found Hannah and Kirsty hanging out chatting about the whole experience. Hannah filled me in on her day, including the detour. We hung around and thanked the organizers, Niall and the whole crew at Biking.ie did an amazing job. We had a chat with Dave from CCM Racing, and a few of our new friends came by to offer congrats to us. The series has been a blast. I'm sad to see the end of it, but I'm really glad I managed to get through it. And get though it with my main goal intact. I did not rest, nor did I walk, for any of the races.
I'd especially like to thank Hannah, my wife. Without her encouragement to give it a go I'm pretty sure I'd still be only talking about maybe trying racing again. I certainly wouldn't have had such a successful series. Thanks Hannah. To everyone else who's encouraged me or read this blog, I'd like to extend my thanks too. Part of what makes me go out is the accountability of this blog. I'm going to have to find a way to improve my training and be more proactive if I'm to tackle the big race later this year, but rest assured you will hear about it, and any other adventures I have along the way too.
Other final thanks go to Adrian Van Der Lee and Colm O'Sullivan. Adrian captured the photos from this round, but both of them have done sterling work capturing the series as a whole.
I hope to see you out on the trails. Enjoy them.
Trail Length: 27.24km
Finish Time: 02:33:00
Finish Position: 62 out of 64 finishers
Final Series Postion: Joint 47 (with 3 others) out of 177 riders Strava: Here