Last weekend saw the beginning of the endurance racing proper.  I was feeling a bit run down at the start of the week between racing, travelling and running around the weekend before in Perth so it was a last minute sign up for the 12HR Bull Raid MTB event held at Bellurgan Park just outside Dundalk.  Conor and I entered Team Summit as the mixed pair team in the 12 hour event on Thursday and on Friday evening got our shizzle together, packed the van each with our Specialized full susser bikes and headed down to set up camp for the weekend.  The event set up was top notch, a pre-marked pitch for our gazebo and race equipment, timing chip between us and a pasta feed the night before.  Saturday morning dawned after a little bit of a restless night not having slept in a tent for about 2 years, and after a quick race briefing at 7.15am the race was ready to start.  Conor opted for the first lap out, obviously a better starter in the morning, and off he shot at what looked to me like XC race pace rather than endurance pace!   I spent the next half hour trying to sort myself out and wake up, get my legs moving, all the stuff you need to have sorted BEFORE you start a race....  After about 40mins I spotted Conor coming across the one road crossing and into the final section of the course so off I headed to our pitch ready to take over.  A quick swap of the timing chip and off I went.  The course started off climbing almost immediately, including a torturous field climb which would gradually get harder as the day progressed - really hard on you when your starting cold.  After that it was into the forest for a quick descent and a little double track relief before hitting the XC course which had been used at the start of the year for the first NPS (post here).  The XC course was a tough 5km route which included twisty draggy climbs, fun bermed descents, technical rooty and rocky sections and one or two rock drops - not a lot of scope for resting - after that it was a blast through some barley fields before hitting the final section of the lap through a narrow section of singletrack forest, not as flowy as the xc course and really bumpy in sections, and on into the start/finish arena.  Having only just warmed up on my first lap and given Conor's first lap was a little off the competitor's pace I opted for a second fast lap XC style and bombed through the transition.  Second lap was hard going, still a bit cold and tired but I reckoned we had made up some valuable time and handed over the next lap to Conor and readied myself to get some rest and a bite to eat.  We'd agreed that come mid way we'd each do a two lapper to allow the other to get some lunch and some real food into us.  So after lap 6 I took over lunch race duties and let Conor organise getting "the dinner on".  Again laps 7 & 8 were a hard fought 1hr 27 of racing, enjoying the trails and riding hard on the climbs, always catching a glimpse of riders up front and enjoying getting to pass at "Ciara speed".  I passed the buck onto Conor looking forward to a near 2hr lunch break and some food as hunger was starting to rumble.  Having sat down, changed out of my damp gear, feet up, coffee on the go, a little risotto, ham & cheese bagel I started to get sleepy - gosh am I gonna be able to keep this up?  After about 50 minutes Conor arrived back round looking a little out of kilter and hot and bothered "I cant take your 40 something minute laps!" he said exacerbated.  It didnt seem like Conor was going to enjoy doing another lap back to back so I offered to go back out and let him gather himself together, got changed back in to my gear and off I went.  Good job actually cause it seemed to have wakened me up after my little "sleep".  Conor took over again next lap after which we agreed I'd do another double and we'd each finish on a single lap allowing me to do a final lap at around the 11hr30 mark.    As the day wore on tiredness started to creep in and although mine and Conor's lap times were pretty consistent within a minute or two, my heart rate gradually declined until the last lap where I struggled to average more than 143 bpm.  Both the legs, arms, neck, back... in fact entire body hurt, I was so glad to be on the Specialized Epic for this race!   Last lap was a bit of a pootle in the park, and the slower I rode the more I started bumping into things and stalling over obstacles, good job I wasn't doing this for any longer.   I crossed the line after doing 9 laps and a cumulative 15 laps between us, being handed a bottle of beer as I stopped - just like the Breck Epic, nice :-)   Big smiles and hugs from Conor as we realised we'd made it through the day.  Later as we queued for the BBQ after trying to get cleaned up a bit we waited to find out how we'd done.  Unlike the other mixed teams we didn't really have a game plan for the day and weren't really paying a whole heap of attention to who else was out on the course when we were, just a case of gun it and see what happens.  So it was a pleasant surprise to find out we'd won the mixed categories with a lap in hand, Conor's first ever race win so he was well chuffed - good work Team Summit!!

Later that evening we all crowded around a huge camp fire and everyone shared their stories of the day before eventually hitting the tent for some much needed snooze time.  Next day we packed up and I left Conor to drive back to Newry to his folk's house while I took a little pootle back over the Cooleys on the bike - nice day in the mountains.

With the nationals over the next few months are going to be more endurance based with the 12hr Bull Raid MTB race, Cooley MTB Marathon and National Marathon champs all still on the cards.

The two weeks after the nationals was spent getting some more quality training in to try and increase my endurance power.  The weekend after I met with Cait and Mel for a ride in the Wicklow Mountains guided by Cait who not only managed to get us lost but also escorted off some farmers field!

Still there was still one more potential XC race on the cards.  Conor and I would be travelling with the Ulster & National Cross Country development squads to Perth in Scotland for a round of the Scottish XC league, myself as team manager/co-ordinator and Conor as trusty mechanic.  The team's practice lap the day before the race revealed an exciting the well designed course again with killer climbs, mental steep descents and plenty of flowy singletrack.  Hmm I thought, this would be nice to race!  After consulting with the riders and the rest of the crew it was agreed that it would be a shame not to test the course and I signed up last minute on race morning.  Lining up on the start line it was clear most of the elite riders were either on holidays or with prior commitments with only 3 elite women signed up.  At these scottish races, ALL the females are set off at the same time, elite, junior, youth etc with the categories being gridded from elite back.  So as the gun went off and we shot down the fire road it was hard to tell who you were racing against and what category they were in.  A group of  four of us headed up the first steep climb in top position, the other girls setting a blistering pace.  As the lap continued we dropped a rider down to just three of us, and we yo-yo'ed positions.  One of these girls Lucy Grant - an under 16 rider by the way! - was setting a blistering pace, racing me like there was no tomorrow.  Going into the second lap i thought, holy moley I cant keep this up for another 3 laps and asked her what category she was in, only to find out she was doing 2 laps.  After that she backed off a bit and I didnt see her again - I suspect we were both relieved I asked that question!  And so I continued working hard on the climbs and having fun on the sketchy descents, finally coming in to win over 12mins in front of Morven Brown.  The rest of the crew also had a good day with three more podium finishes so a good weekend had by all!



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