My First Enduro Race!

The MiniEnduro at the Forest of Dean

2019 see’s me taking on a new mountain biking challenge – in the shape of some Enduro races.

The most notable being the coveted Ard Rock Enduro which takes place on the stunning North Yorkshire Dales in August.

Training for such a big race started at the beginning of the year – interval sessions on the exercise bike combined with body weight exercises to help maximise strength and power when on the trails.

I’ve was also lucky enough to be asked to join the #ardrockready programme – a series of coaching session by ProRide MTB Coaching, supported by Maxxis Tyres, thats aimed at getting you, as the hashtag suggests, ready to race at ArdRock.

Before taking on such a big event I wanted to get a taste of what it’s like to enter a race, to feel the pressure of riding within the tapes with other riders chasing you down.

So I decided to enter the first round of the MiniEnduro down in the Forest of Dean.

I headed down to FOD on the Saturday afternoon, set the bike up and went for a quick pedal around to find the freshly taped race stages for a few practice laps whilst it was quiet. I found both stages 3 and 4 at the top of an incredibly tough push up.

Stage 3 started fairly flat with a good bit of pedaling needed to get some momentum going before crossing the fire road into what I can only describe as the steepest and loosest trail I’ve ever ridden. Completely taken aback at how steep and slippery the trail was I clung on and hit the brakes, pretty much all the way down.

Stage 4 was even more technical – a long off camber traverse with several ice like roots ready to take your front wheel away from you awaited whilst the long and wide right hand corner was a blast to try and drift around, flat out, foot out!

I returned the next morning to practice stages 1 & 2, feeling pretty nervous about the race that afternoon, especially as it had poured down the whole night before leaving the trails in a muddy, slippery mess. I met with Neil and Stephen from Maxxis Tyres, both of which are part of the #ardrockready programme too and started the long climb to stage 1.

Stage 1 was fast and more akin to what I’m used to riding – until you reach the bottom section where the roots are once again out to sweep you off your bike. But it was fun, and I was in my element and buzzing as we made our way up to stage 2.

Stage 2, was the longest and most gruelling of the 4 stages. The top and middle sections were full of pedalling sections that were draining on the legs. The second half started  by dropping into the trees with some really fun tight corners and drop offs before leading back into the sloppy, muddy trail that took riders down into a mud pit before spitting them back out and upwards before the finish line. A real test of endurance, but again I loved it and felt high on confidence as I waited for the other guys to finish.

As Neil and Stephen has not yet practiced stages 3 & 4 I decided to show them where they were… and this is where it all when wrong!

With only 30 minutes before lunch we decided to just try stage 4. I dropped in first and was doing ok until the long traverse section. A big root crossed the trail, off camber and slick from the nights rain fall took me clean off my bike, sending me over the bars. I slowly limped my way down the rest of the trail on my bike, brakes on, in a daze.

We regrouped for lunch as I changed my now broken half shell for my full face, confidence knocked.

Race time approached as I made my way to stages 3 & 4 (racers were split into two groups to keep an even flow across all stages). I felt even more nervous now having had my confidence kicked, which was made worse by having to confront those two tricker technical stages first.

Stage 3 was first up – I managed to navigate my way down with only a couple of small slips and dabs, albeit fairly slowly.

Then onto stage 4, I made sure I traversed the off camber section that took out me in practice with much more care, and again  made my way down without crashing and only a few little slips on the slick mud. Relief.

Feeling good that I had safely made it down both of those stages my confidence began to grow as I started the long pedal to stage 1.

I had, by my own abilities, smashed this trail in practice so I set of at a fast pace popping off the small jumps and feeling confident in my turns. Towards the bottom, before the fire road crossing I caught a pedal on a tree stump, sending my off the bike again. Disaster.

Frantically I picked myself back up and jumped on my bike before dropping back in to the steep trail. The bottom section felt slow and I struggled again to get over the roots and drops. I felt absolutely gutted, knowing that was my best chance at keeping pace with other riders around me.

At this point I felt tired. And the long ride back up to the top for stage 2 wasn’t helping. I set of stage two at a good pace, but all of a sudden my legs went and I felt completely drained – still with the long flat traverse pedal to come. I battled on dropping down into the woods for the final section, where I had nothing left. I crossed the line knowing it was slow.

After the race I felt pretty disappointed with my result. 93 out of 99 masters. I knew that if I had ridden as I did in practice it would have been a better result.

I wasn’t here to race for a podium – not by a long shot. Before the race I told myself I didn’t want to come last – which I achieved, even with some pretty hefty crashes and some silly mistakes, but couldn’t help but feel that I could have done so much better.

Having now had time to reflect on it, I can see where I went wrong and hopefully how I can fix it moving forward (although it’s a long list).

Would I race a MiniEnduro again? absolutely.

The event was really well organised, the tracks were the right mix of challenging, technical, fast and fun, so hats off to all involved in getting the stages in shape for race weekend.

All in all, it was a brilliant introduction to racing that has left me not only black and blue from my crashes, but wanting more of the action. Here’s to the next one.

Written by: AURUM MTB – #TotalMTB Reviewer

Instagram: @aurum_mtb
Twitter: @aurum_mtb