Sometimes things just don't work out the way you'd like them to. This race was to be my last race this season and I was hoping to win the Irish National Points Series and thought I had to come at least 2nd in this race to win the series. The course is one that always reminds me of when I started mountain biking for I raced my first ever mountain bike race in Castlewellan. I was also hoping to beat Cait Elliott, the current Irish XC Champ, who was also in contention for winning the series. But it wasn't going to be - it was to be one of my most disastrous races of the year! (That's also why it has taken me so long to write this report...).
The first thing that went wrong was that Ryan's alarm didn't go off so that we were in a bit of a rush to get to the race. We still arrived with plenty of time to go for a practice lap. The course was similar to previous races in Castlewellan: Up a steep climing fireroad with really technical singletrack loops off it, a bit of a fireroad descent and more technical singletrack descending and contouring around the bottom of the hill by the lake side back to the start.
The next thing that went wrong was that I fell off my bike twice (!) in the practice lap. The course was bone dry almost everywhere, but instead of having lots of traction on rocky bits, I found that they were even more slippery than when slightly damp. I felt I wasn't concentrating enough. Some of the singletrack bits were supertechnical and it didn't help that most of my recent training was on the road - I didn't feel comfortable.
Finally I went to the start to join the only other two ladies in my category: Ciara McManus and Cait Elliott. My legs felt fresh and my plan was to get away from Cait straight from the start. However, from the start the pace was high - why were we all racing off like eejits?? There was no singletrack until halfway up the fireroad! I couldn't motivate myself to kill myself up the hill - I only had to come second anyway and this was my last race, so I thought I'd just go at comfortable speed with Cait for the first two laps and then hammer the last lap.
However, halfway through the first bit of singletrack the third thing went wrong. I went down a technical bit, hit a rock with my front wheel and got hurtled through the air just to belly flap onto a big stone. It hit straight into my solar plexus and pressed all the air out of my lungs. I couldn't breathe - I had totally winded myself - and was in bad pain, I thought I was going to pass out. Eventually, after a few minutes of rolling on my back groaning and thinking that the pain would never subside I was getting my breath back and the pain was getting less. I thought of dropping out of the race, but so far I had never dropped out of a race and I was still thinking about winning the series. I knew I had to come second, so I only had to come ahead of Ciara. I wasn't sure if she had passed me when I was lying on the ground - I had no idea how many people went by while I was down - so I asked two guys who went by and it seemed she was ahead of me. I told myself to get my act together and forced myself to get back onto my bike. I thought if I can make it back to the start in one piece, I may as well try and do the other two laps to finish the race and hope to catch Ciara. I was so happy to see her soon enough on the fireroad climb and overtook her comfortably enough (can't stress the importance of hill drills enough.... ;)).
I don't know how many minutes I was down, so I didn't know if I had a chance to catch Cait in the state I was in. I tried to go a little harder, but my stomach still hurt and I wasn't breathing properly, so I quickly decided to tootle the rest of the race and take it easy, especially on the technical bits. If was lucky I would catch her, if not, then it wasn't to be. And so I survived the last two laps unlucky, finishing just under 3min behind Cait and about 10min ahead of Ciara. According to my Garmin data I had been lying on the ground for around 3min, which is the about the time difference between 1st and 2nd place.
After the race I felt really crap - I was still in pain from the crash and cuts and bruises (I think I had accummulated more bruises today than in the whole season!) and was feeling stupid having crashed so early in the race. It all came down to me then. This was definitely not how I wanted to end my season! However, trying to see the positive side of things, 2nd place meant I had still won the series - only Ryan told me then that I only needed to come 3rd today to win the series, so I needn't have bothered doing all three laps - grrr!
For a whole week I haven't touched my bike - I only realize now much I needed a break from racing - in a period of 27 weeks I had raced 25 races, 13 of these abroad - I was thoroughly raced out. Long live the off season!! :)
Thanks to Geoff Seymour for doing feed zone support. Results can be found here. Final Overall Standings can be downloaded from here.