When I first started mountain biking, I rode clipped in. I felt like that was the proper way to do it, the accepted way to do it, and to ride on flats was to be a n00b. It wasn’t until I started a skills course where it was recommended to ride in flats that I changed over. I am now struggling to return to clipped in riding. I feel so much more freedom and courage to try things in my flats than clipped in. Of course there are big discussions about what is best option and the fastest, with many putting the money on clips. When the winning elite women’s racer tells you that she thinks it’s more hard-core to race in flats, well, I’m happy to take that! For Dubbo, I had planned to ride clipped in. I was being brave, doing my reccy ride clipped in to prepare and workshop anything for the following day. For the first half of the course I felt great, but it was easy. I hit the second half, the rocks, the technical climbs, descents, turns, and I lost all confidence that I could do it. Disappointing.
That night I gave myself a break. I have a tendency to be hard on myself, too hard, especially when I feel a bit embarrassed and ashamed that I am still racing on flats. I decided for this race that again I would ride in flats and run the sections I hadn’t been able to ride the day before – it would be quicker than struggling through and I wouldn’t be holding as many people up. I was going to do my best, try what I could on flats and run when I thought it would be best.
I was nervous for the start of the race. I wanted to do well, I wanted to ride hard and put it all out there. Add to that a quick interview for WIN television and I was feeling the nerves!
This race definitely had two personalities. A smooth, flowy and fast start, followed by rocky, pinchy ups and downs. Sixteen kilometers and 400m of climbing each lap, jumps, berms, tight corners, something for everyone.
By taking the pressure off for the race, giving myself that out of running if I had to in those difficult sections, I opened up a new strength. I rode every single bit of that trail, I stopped at nothing, rode most of the A-lines, some of it by simply holding on and trying not to grab too hard on the brakes! This definitely demonstrated that being clipped in puts up a mental barrier for me. Here I was, less than 24 hours later, dominating this course and riding lines that the day before I was shaking at and completely unable to attempt. It is also in part due to the nature of race days I expect, that excitement, adrenaline, pushing yourself and not having as much time to stop and think and ponder the obstacle.
Now, that’s not to say I did it all perfectly! As the hours wore on, my head and legs got tired. I started making mistakes, especially on my last lap. I was nursing a potential cramp in my left glute that hadn’t quite taken but was threatening to for the last two laps. With less than 3kms to go, I made my biggest mistake. I took a jump wrong and hugged a tree. Apart from some minor bruising, the worst of this tumble was that the cramp seized the opportunity to go full force! I need to figure out what’s going on. It could be related to nutrition or hydration, but I think that it is my bike fit. I suspect that my seat is a fraction too low and I’m not getting proper glute activation. It’s all about trial and error, working out what works and what doesn’t to get your best rides in.
Speaking of trial and error, I want to say something about riding clipped and on flats. We should be able to ride however we feel the most comfortable. There should be no shame in riding in flats. I overtook many riders, men and women, who were clipped in but lacked confidence and stopped at even the most simple of obstacles, including a short smooth, but steep, downhill. The pressure to ride clipped in because it’s more “pro” is very real. The ridicule for not being clipped in is unwarranted. I completely smashed my race because I was confident and capable. I rode the lines that the day before I struggled with because of the clips. I know that I should be able to ride it all clipped in as well, but I am happy to work at my pace to get there, if I even want to. I am working on my ability, my skills, my fitness, and I really like that with flats I am (a very little bit) more daring. We should do what we are comfortable with, work at our pace and find, through trial and error, the set up that works the best for us.
Dubbo surprised me. I wasn’t expecting the level of technicality compared with the other Evocities events that I’ve competed in, I wasn’t even expecting the rocks. The second half of the race came out of nowhere for me, but all in all, this race was amazing. The trails were safe and well made, and the atmosphere, as usual, was friendly and encouraging. Can’t wait for the next challenge.
I have to thank my incredible cheer squad, and the supportive words that so many of the amazing riders gave, especially my coach. If you haven’t tried a mountain bike race, get on it, everyone is incredibly supportive!