A couple of weeks before the Thetford race we went up to practice at Sherwood Pines Forest Park where there's a red route which would be a good test. I did the 8.5 mile lap there in my fastest time so was bouyed with confidence. I didnt have the energy for a second lap so whilst Lee went off to play I amused myself by doing a few runs down the very first section of the route against the clock to see what time I could set on the short section. Best I could do was 1 min 24 secs. Lee had just taken delivery of a new GT Mountain bike so whilst he was cooling down I took it off down the same route to see what the difference was...... I did just one route and despite fumbling gear changes and not being used to the set up of his bike against mine i straight away did 1 min 16 secs...... 8 seconds gain! You know what this means........................ yes a new bike needed!
A couple of days research and I narrowed the choice down to 2 specific bikes........ one of which I found for sale having been only ridden a handful of times up and down a lane........ and it was less than half the new price..... so after handing over lots of notes (!) there I was the proud owner of A Giant XTC3 XC Mountain Bike
The Thetford Whyte Winter Series is a set of 4 Races held between November and February and attracts a full capacity of 500 riders to each race. Classes are split by age group with distance options from 2 laps to 4 hours (!) So somehow on the first weekend of November I found myself deep in the Thetford Forest lining up with 500 other loons to race bicycles around a cross country course about 6.5 miles long.
It was very much a baptism of fire and not even having been to a mountain bike race before! I had only been training a few weeks really at this point and had no idea what to expect really!...... My engine tuner Chalky White is a keen and regular cyclist and I had his advice ringing in my ears...... " Don't go off too fast and burn yourself out " .....
I found that on the downhill singletrack swoops I could make up a lot of time.... but then immediately lose it when we hit the open fire track roads and uphill stretches. I just didnt have the strength in my legs to keep up the same pace on those bits. I ended the 2 lap race in 19th place out of 34 starters so overall I wasn't unhappy!
I carried on regular training and entered again for Round 2 which was he;d at a different part of the forest. This time I did at least know roughly what to expect! The course for the second round included a bit more swooping single track and a few jumps and bombholes here and there which were a bit scary! I felt stronger for the second round as I was 4 weeks fitter! This time there were 29 entries and I managed to finish 12th.
With a 7 week gap to Round three to allow for the Christmas period I carried on training. Round three was f@*#ing cold I can tell you! The race started in minus 4 and ended around zero! This time I knew a little more so paced myself .... but a little too much on the first lap and got stuck behind a few slower riders through some of the stretches of single track through the forest. This can be really frustrating as its virtually impossible to pass without forcing a way through. i ended this one in 12th place too . I checked my times against the winners and found that I was 110% of the winning time in Round 1 but was only 107% at Round 3 so I was definitely fitter and faster!
Round 4 saw a brilliantly sunny day - must be summer! - and unfortunately I was about to learn some important points! Normally training stops a few days before a race, but on the Saturday I felt pretty good and it was a nice day and after I had checked the bike over and cleaned and lubricated i decided to go out for a nice easy ride....... enthusiasm and boredom had the better of me and I ended up doing almost 16 miles! This would come back to haunt me!
I arrived at Thetford a little later than the previous races and signed on then set off for a short ride to warm my legs up. I set off from the race paddock following a couple of guys around the first part of the circuit. Once we crossed a fire road we turned off and headed down the fire road... I had only planned a short ride and assumed like me they were taking a short cut back..... then for some reason it struck me that they had no race numbers on their bikes.... ooops .... I was following some guys who were just out for a ride! Long story short.... I turned around to head back..... but must have missed a turn somewhere ( all trees look the same! ) and now I was plain lost and disorientated .
Race start time was now only 15 mins away and after stopping a guy to to ask him found I was a good 2.5 miles from the race paddock! oops! I consulted his map and headed off in what I hoped was the right way ... flat out...... I could hear a loudspeaker then through the trees saw the red flag.... phew...... the first classes had all gone off and there was less than 3 minutes to the start...... and i was about knackered from riding back flat out! No time to top up drinks.....
Watch the left hand side coming towards camera... black / yellow clothing with red helmet
I managed to shuffle ( push ) my way to the second row and was still getting my breath back as the horn went to start the race! I just went for it and pushed hard and after some elbow banging through the single track and a rather solid clash of handle bars I was in 10th place at the end of the first lap and had passed about 20 riders of the next class that had started 3 minutes earlier.
On the second lap I got caught up in a couple of other peoples crashes including one going down through the fast sweeping single track when I was just lining up to pass a guy when he hit a tree root and binned it! As I was only about 12 " behind him I had nowhere to go and after running over him found myself in a heap on teh floor with my feet still attached to my pedals|!
At about 75% race distance the previous days mileage and the 11 miles 'warm up' suddenly hit and my legs were shot! the two crashes and my jelly legs meant a couple of guys had snuck past and I just didnt have the strength to chase them back down..... All part of the learning curve though! Don't train too much! I ended the race 13th.
The final points totals for the race series are not published yet but I am 6 / 7th overall so was quite chuffed with that for my first foray into cycle racing at the grand old age of 48.
Getting so into Mountain Bike Racing over the last few months has been an absolute godsend really and I have really benefitted from being outdoors and away from all the stresses and shit in life. I am a stone and a half lighter than at the end of the scooter race season and a 34" waist for the first time since my late twenties! Which can only be a good thing.