“I don’t really know how to approach this race.”
I thought to myself as I stepped out of the car at Early O’Clock and rapped chilly knuckles against Wayne’s front door.
The tapping set Earl the dog off, barking away until Wayne explaines to him who is waiting on the other side, at which point the hostilities ended and the demands for attention begin. Wayne was grinning, ignoring the time and distinct lack of heat in the air through a mixture of excited chatter and standing next to a roaring fire.
“Social occasion. Definitely a Social Occasion”.
I decided as we crammed the car full of bikes, warm looking clothes and fashionably branded energy drinks. Many, many people I knew, sort of knew, knew via fashionable social media sites and vaguely recognised from other races were congregating in a frozen field on the outskirts of Manchester. All with their own single purpose. Some to race for the podium, some to race whoever happened to be in front of them, some to race themselves and a couple of daft buggers to organise the whole thing. There was An Event on, and we were heading straight for it.
Within seconds of rolling through the entrance to the park where everything was conceived, planned and was in the process of being born, the “How do? Ya alreet? How’ve ya bin?”s began and, frankly, didn’t stop until a sense of duty demanded we all split up and take up marshal points around the course to help out with the youth race. Which was nice, but did allow my, up until that point warm due to all the handshaking, hands get cold, reminding me that underneath the cosy, friendly exterior, a cold, as-solid-as-the-frozen-ground race was waking. The speed of the top youth racers (and their colourful shoes) reinforced this reminder and I walked back up to the car to pull on my race kit with a very different thought running through my head.
“This is a race. I’m here to race. I’ll smile somewhen else, this is all about elbows out racing.”
The roll down to the start line(s – the race has become so popular that riders have to self-rate themselves along a series of start lines, ranging from “Elite” to the rather worrying “Will probably die”) felt like a ride into a fridge freezer and the start line chatter was as much teeth banging together as it was a continuation to the “How ya doin?”s of earlier.
Luckily the wait to go didn’t last long. At all. In fact I was still standing with both feet on the floor, looking down at my stem as an explosion of forward motion went off around me. Oops.
Straight back up the fireroad and straight up into the red in order to get back past everyone who was paying attention and flew past me.
“This is a race.”
Onto the first section of singletrack. The three deep peloton of already gasping riders uncomfortably arranges itself into near single file to flow through the trees, first lap sharpened elbows are surprisingly not in use, in fact it all seems very friendly, given the speed and obvious intent.
Phil is sitting just in front of me as we negotiate a root infested corner/drop combo and I get a serious close up of his rear tyre as an avoiding technique to prevent him bouncing off another rider goes wrong and he tumbles over the bars. Thankfully he bounces, rather than splats and I can’t help but giggle as he clambers back up and extricates his bike from the tree it’s become lodged in. A few people race past as I wait for him to get back on, but I barely notice.
“Hmm, this feels more like a social thing”
The race progresses and I find myself sitting somewhere below what I’d consider ‘flat out’. I’m still chasing people in front of me, but I’m not feeling the rarely-used corners of my lungs rattling in disapproval. I even crack the occasional smile at the (top notch) heckling.
I’m not taking it totally easy though. In fact I take myself a little too seriously dropping into a steep little bit of the course and all of a sudden I’m in the air. Then, all of a sudden, I’m very much not. Oooff. I start to scrabble round, tentitively waiting for the onrush of post-crash pain when I hear a familiar voice sarcastically shout out “You’ve turned your bike into a gate, Dave”.
I start to laugh, then start to consider how long I can get away with just leaving the ScandAL strewn across the race course, stopping me from losing any places.
“This is definitely a social event”
I clamber down to the bottom of the drop and watch as Dave Haygarth and several other riders cruise past and shift through various gears as they begin to climb up a fireroad, disappearing with annoying speed.
“Erm, actually, this is a race.”
I leap back on the bike and, within seconds, each and every part of my body I’ve just used to halt my fall pops into my conciousness, one after the other, to explain their displeasure with me. Aches and pains are ignored as I through a bit of weight down at the pedals and start to chase down the places I’ve just lost.
“This is a race. It’s becoming a painful race, but it’s a race”
Fireroads are swooped up, corners are railed…mostly, a few are overshot wildly, but progress is made and I catch up with rider after rider. My back is pointing out to me that it’s main function is not as a crash pad by aching and seizing up unless I stretch it out every few minutes, but as I find myself racing alongside Dave this allows a new idea to form
“Oh, it’s a social race! Nice! Race, but only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of having a laugh. Chase down everyone in front of you…but say hello too!”
This seems to work and pays dividends as I find myself loving every corner of the race course and getting to briefly catch up with people as I do so. Old friends, new friends, random people who are grinning almost as much as I am as we’re heckled and heralded towards the finish line by spectators and marshals alike. The race ends with a flourish of energy gel powered last lap sprint to gain any recently gained positions and a head full of questions for everyone, once we’ve all made it to the end.
Of course, after a few minutes of adrenaline fuelled nattering, the realisation that it really is snowing heavily hits, and the next few hours are spent pushing and guiding cars out of the suddenly very steep park. Somehow though, this doesn’t seem like a chore. In fact it’s as social as the race and, as Wayne and I flop back into the car a few hours later, it seems like a fitting end to the event/race/whatever it actually is.