Round 4 was on Saturday the 26th of March in Ticknock. This was always going to be a tough race. The Ticknock trail centre is our local course. We know it well and so we knew exactly what we were signing up to. We'd done two laps before, but never without a break for coffee and a bun between laps 1 and 2.
The race sold out fast, and the car park is a bit limited there. We figured parking was going to be an issue so we decided to arrive early to remove stress. This was needless. Unfortunately turnout was low, and we ended up hanging out at the start line for a long while as people arrived in. We saw some people we recognized from other rounds and struck up conversations. One such friend had to miss the race due to a mechanical but she was around to help Marshall. Another two friends of ours, Mark and Olivia, popped by to offer encouragement. Before too long our category was called to the start.
We lined up and waited for the signal to go. As the whistle blew I was promptly dropped by everyone. I made a rookie mistake and pushed hard to try and keep up. I was close to Hannah with our friend Kristy behind me. Mark gave me some helpful pointers from the sidelines as we dropped into our first bit of single track after a horrible tarmac climb. "Elbows out to defend" he advised me. The trails flowed fast, and soon we were ripping into the second section of single track. This trail has a really nice couple of rock gardens and a fade away drop I always enjoy. All too soon however it crosses a short bridge and climbs uphill between some high gorse. Tom's climb is a long narrow winding strip of single track. There's a short kicker at the start and again at the end. It has two particularly steep hairpin corners that used to catch me out. At the start of Tom's climb, Hannah dropped me and I could hear Kirsty close behind.
As we climbed up and got to some slightly wider trail I offered to drop back, but I was told there was no need. This trail exits to a shared trail that had been helpfully taped into two. Eventually we exited out onto a fire road that pointed briefly downhill. Kirsty took this opportunity to pass me and sprint off down the hill. I was last, and ahead of me was the long slog up Euroskeptic's climb. I turned off the fire road and swung into the climb. Rounding a few switch backs I kept an eye on the trail behind me. Experts were doing three laps, and the ebikes had set off ahead of everyone else. This was going to be a race I spent mostly looking behind me. Euroskeptic is a tough climb, it has a couple of rocky switchbacks, a chunky rock garden, and then the last stretch, as you sit right on the edge of the tree line, seems to just carry on forever. At the top of it is a wide patch where I would normally stop for a breather. Not this time, I had nobody coming up behind me, so I powered through and pushed on.
The descent down Euroskeptic is one of my favourite sections of trail in the forest. It starts out flat enough that you have to push hard to gain speed, but then it weaves through the trees fast and flowy. There are some rock gardens scattered throughout and a few corners I usually take fast enough to end up jumping straight rather than turning. As I approached a trail crossing I went to put in a few pedal strokes... nothing. I glance down and see my chain has fallen off. Grumbling I stop, put my chain on, and push off. a couple of sweeping berms later and you're unceremoniously spat out onto a steep tarmac climb. I drop a few gears, glance at my time, and push on.
At the top of the tarmac road Mark and Olivia are again trail side cheering us on. Mark says Hannah's only 20 seconds ahead of me. He meant it as encouragement to push on... I knew she'd widen the gap before the top of the hill. He warned the ebikes were due soon, but the next climb was mostly double track, so I was confident I could avoid getting in anyone's way. As I made my way up I was passed by the lead three ebikes. Each rider offering me encouragement as they sped passed me. I kept talking to myself the way up this climb. It's steep and quite rough, but I knew I could make it at least once. As I reached the top I glanced back and saw an ebike close behind. I decided it would be best to allow them pass while at a wide path, so I eased off and went into a track-stand for a short while until they passed. Once they had, the trail pointed down once more and I was able to let loose.
This descent is good fun. A couple of nice switchbacks into a variety of rock gardens. A long run through the woods, out across some open hillside, back into woods and onto a new section called Pandemic. That trail is great fun. Plenty of jumps and large sweeping berms. I pushed hard and enjoyed it as much as I could while feeling quite tired. Exiting with a sharp right then left turn onto a fire road, I raised my saddle and prepared for the final climb of the lap.
The long descent down to the start finish opens with some nice jumps, skips across a viewing area, and then drops back into the woods. There were a few onlookers here to cheer us on, and Adrian Van Der Lee was hanging around where he snapped the picture of me below. I was able to carry a bit of speed down the hill, but my back began to tire towards the bottom. Plenty of jumps and berms to enjoy while following the trail through trees. As I neared the start finish area I noticed an elite rider approaching behind me. I got ready to take the 90 degree left hand turn and quickly got out of the elite rider's way. I crossed the line, tired lungs, tired back, tired mind, and started to talk myself into my second lap.
This time I had to encourage myself up the tarmac road and down the first section of single track. I was passed by several racers who were far fresher on their 3rd lap than I was on my second. On this lap I noticed a trail marker was broken and lying splintered. I hope that it wasn't a bad incident for whoever hit it, they must have been pushing hard. As I again descended towards Tom's climb I kept a sharp eye behind. Throughout the climb I was politely passed by the elite field. I remember vividly counting out how many climbs I had left, how achievable it all appeared to be. At points I felt faint and sick to my stomach. I think I'll need to train to eat while cycling. My bottle of carb juice kept me going. As I reached the top of Euroskeptic I was passed by two riders. I set my sights on keeping up with them through the descent. I picked up my pace and tried to keep in the flow of the trail. I was gaining on the racers in front and feeling confident I could catch them when again my chain came off. I grumbled, fixed it, and carried on. I spent large parts of the climbs alone encouraging myself. Picking a short goal, pedalling passed it, and pushing on again. Far too tired to enjoy the descents I took solace in the fact that I was not passed while descending.
On exiting Pandemic again I really had to dig deep for the final fire road climb. But each stroke brought me closed to the top. Words of encouragement from a friendly marshall at the top of the hill got me up. I was elated. The hard part was done. I had not walked or rested. The final descent was mostly on autopilot. I wasn't actively pushing. As I turned the corner for the final uphill push to the finish line there was yet more encouragement from people on the sidelines. Up at the finish line I could see Hannah cheering for me. A smile on her face as I crossed the line and all but collapsed. This race was tough. I spent a lot of it alone needing to rely on tools and techniques I've learned over the last few months to push through. I'm very proud of myself for having completed it and kept my goal of "no walking, no breaks" alive for another race.
Hannah told me she had a good, if tough race too. She was also struggling with the second lap, but she made it around in under 2hrs without breaks or walking either. It's looking like this will be a successful series for both of us. Bring on round 5.
Trail Length: 21km
Finish Time: 02:07:41
Finish Position: 23 out of 23 finishers