Rachael Gurney, intrepid MTB enduro rider, headed up to the Scottish Highlands to take part in the 'Spirit of Enduro' event. The word 'epic' springs to mind.
Wow, those trails are tough!
Wow, the standard of riding is HIGH!
Wow, I'm not sure this was good second race back after injury!
Wow, the scenery is amazing!
Wow, this is FUN!
It goes on, you get the picture...
This enduro was different to any other event I have taken part in. I would say it was indescribably epic, but that really doesn't help me describe it does it? So let's have a go.
During the weekend I had a good old chat with Fiona Beattie, one of three race organisers from No Fuss Events, the others being Frazer Coupland and David “Spook" Monro.
More usually known for organising cross-country races, duathlons and triathlons, this time they wanted to introduce a new event where there was a challenge for everyone no matter what level of experience or ability.
It’s a no-pressure, fun race for everybody!
Fiona told me the aim was to create a relaxed event full of good racing with exciting, testing trails, attempting to capture the spirit of enduro; riding and partying with mates. With the 'Dudes' name on the tin and No Fuss Events expertise in event organising it was bound to be a winner!
The race weekend
Arriving at the race venue on Saturday morning, the weather was wet, gloomy and dank. The kind where, when you are at home, you might keep the bike in the garage and opt for a gym session instead.
No matter, we were here for a ride and ride we shall!
Luckily, this event was based from The Ice Factor, an indoor climbing venue in Kinlochleven. This meant warmth, food, drink and a great social atmosphere with all the racers gathered together.
Saturday was a practice day, and meant everyone had the chance to try all the stages so we weren’t riding them blind on Sunday for the actual event.
A race briefing on Saturday night gave everyone the lowdown on what to expect, and was followed by a party until late, with beverages, music and movies.
The race itself was run in a similar format to the Mini Enduro in the Forest of Dean earlier this year. There were three timed stages and the interlinking liaison stages, with a timing chip on a wristband so you ‘dib’ in and out at the start and finish of each stage.
Getting to the stage starts was a relaxed affair with no particular time to have to rock up by. Riders were set off in groups of 10 at about 3 minute intervals, and got to choose their own start times which meant groups of friends could ride together. I opted to ride with my boyfriend Adam; the downside of this was not having much of a chance to mix with the other girls.
Sunday - Race Day
Race day dawned a lot drier than Saturday, thankfully. I set off at 10:22 to start the first of the three big climbs of the day. This stage was called the Grey Mares Trail, and after 45 minutes of steep climbing, I reach the top with time to admire the view I hadn't seen due to rain the day before.
I had been nervous on the pedal up, wondering how I was going to ride all those tracks again after the practice on Saturday, AND go faster down them! The trails in Kinlochleven are rocky and loose, so it’s a real test of skill and technique, making sure you get your weight back and let the front of the bike roll. Line choice was crucial and the trails really kept you on your toes.
The timed section of stage one went from a narrow bed of loose rocks bounded by muddy banks, followed by drops and bends and into a rooty gully complete with stream. There was also an unavoidable deep muddy bog – you could almost here the course designers sniggering.
Luckily, I needn’t have worried. The first stage went great and I was happy have put in a steady run with no offs, all the way back down to Kinlochleven. One down, two to go!
There was no rest for the riders though, so after a quick stop it was on to stage two, AKA The Kennels.
This started off with the same fire-road climb as stage one – plus another 20 minutes. Up at the top it was pretty chilly, and a 20-minute queue did nothing for my riding ability. I set off feeling stiff, cold and tense, and it was all downhill from there, literally and mentally.
The upper part of stage two was a lot like stage one, with the addition of sneaky grassy hillocks. Getting up them was one thing, getting down them was another, much more slippery matter. From there the trail descended into the woods with nice winding single track, with flowing corners and a wet roots to add interest.
I saw plenty of crashes on the way down, and not just my own – but the ‘spirit of enduro’ really did shine through, with everyone laughing through the carnage. Reaching the end of this stage, I was admittedly a little despondent as I knew I hadn’t ridden to the best of my ability, but hey! There was still one more stage to go.
The third and final stage was also the Red Bull special stage, so we had tuned pumping out from their truck to power us up the climb. From practice yesterday, I knew this was the shortest stage – a short up, a short down, but a completely nuts trail. While the other stages were rocky, this one was muddy – so muddy, it resembled chocolate mousse!
Sloppy, sticky, slippery and everywhere.
It was so bad that I decided running down bits of it would actually be quicker, although as I’m still recovering from a broken leg it was more like limping, pushing, hopping and carrying the bike down.
Luckily the trail drops back into the trees after a while, and the mud cleared enough that I could get back on the bike. This bit of the trail featured some great technical corners and I’d love to come back and ride this in the dry. Surviving the techy bits, I was then greeted by a flat fire road sprint before nipping back in the woods for the final twists and turns.
I caught the rider in front of me on the sprint stretch and flew off the drop to finish, speeding through the inflatable Red Bull archway – and heading back into the warmth for post-race tea and cake.
Ines Thoma of Canyon Factory Racing took the win with incredibly fast times for each stage. Second place was taken by Sophie Buckingham followed by local gal Ros Newman in third. My poor stage two time and limping through stage 3 set me back in 10th place.
This was a truly great weekend. As well as great and challenging riding, and incredible fun, I also learned a thing or two.
1) Women riders from the north are tough! Not to mention absolutely pinned.
2) People + atmosphere + enduro = good times!
3) And finally a random one…a massive blue Ikea bag stores dirty kit like no other. The Scottish appear to know it and now so do you!