Words by Rebecca Parker
Sometimes, no scrap that – frequently, I do question my own sanity. Why am I driving hundreds of miles, paying money I don’t have, stressing myself to the maximum just so I can spend the weekend pushing myself to the point of hyperventilating, lung burning, leg cramping, nausea inducing exhaustion. That’s if it’s a pedally track.
The other option is I’ll get there and the track is so steep, slippery and technical that I have to tripod most of the way down death gripping the brakes, eyes on storks and heart in mouth. I’ll still be gasping for air at the bottom but only because I was so terrified I forgot to breathe.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges of racing I completely love it.
Amongst women, the opinion is very divided on why bother racing. In order for you to make up your own mind here is a roundup of the main arguments for and against racing.
Reasons to race MTB
RIDING NEW TRACKS
Races are often run on private land or hidden tracks dug by locals that you would normally never get a chance to ride on. Races also provide a motivator to get out and explore new venues. If you live in a good riding area yourself, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of convenience.
RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
With new tracks come new challenges. Race runs are designed to test your skills and so will inevitably include larger obstacles, technical and steep sections. While big drops and doubles will have a chicken line, this will usually be considerably slower and steep sections are unavoidable. The adrenaline, competitiveness and comradery between racers encourage riders to push themselves.
WATCH, LEARN AND COPY
Downhill, in particular, provides a great chance to watch elite riders on the same track you race yourself. Seeing their speed, line choice and body position over difficult sections then being able to (attempt) this yourself is a great way to learn.
THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE
From planning your season, training for the event, prepping your bike and kit, travelling to the unknown, feeling nervous, practising, race runs, the huge relief and celebratory/sorrow drowning beers afterwards. Shared with friends or complete strangers it’s the whole slightly mad experience that has so many people hooked on racing MTB.
FOR THE ADRENALINE KICK
The surge of adrenaline the atmosphere of race day evokes sharpens all the senses to make you ride with arrow focus difficult to recreate anywhere else. It makes you think about how you ride and concentrate on every section to maximise speed and accuracy whilst balancing on the dangerous edge of your very best and total disaster.
Reasons to not race MTB
Not all of us have this competitive edge, not all of us are bothered about going fast, not all of us want to risk it all for often not much more than a cardboard placard and some bike shampoo though...
PAY MORE TO RIDE LESS
The average uplift day is £38 for around 10 runs; an MTB race can be anywhere from £40 to £70 for certainly not as much ride time. Add to that the cost of travel, accommodation if you don’t camp, food and beer. If you don’t mind a pedal or push up, riding at home for fun can easily be free. That is part of the appeal of mountain biking!
THE TIME COMMITMENT
Sadly, the carefree days of childhood are over for most of us. The demands of work, relationships, family, non-biking friends and worn out bodies screaming for rest can make committing to a whole day or even weekend away racing simply too much.
FEELING THE PRESSURE
There is no denying that racing is stressful. Some worry about spectators, newbies worry about the unknown, as you progress you worry about your results reflect this. Those who have had a taste of success worry about living up to others and their own expectations. Normal riding becomes a training session and it is so easy to lose sight of the reason you started riding in the first place – just to have fun.
WHEN COMPETITIVENESS GETS OUT OF HAND
It’s a sad reality that in any group of women there will always be some b****ing. Mountain biking is no exception. Girls who would normally be supportive and encouraging of each other start making comments. Mostly it is all done in good humour and is intended as good natured rivalry but this sort of atmosphere doesn’t suit everyone.
CHILLING AS A SPECTATOR
For all the atmosphere, socialising, beer drinking and weekends away from home with none of the stress some prefer to just come along with friends/partners and be chief cheerleader/advisor/photographer instead.
Racing certainly isn’t for everyone and that's ok but be sure to give it a go before you completely write it off.
It doesn’t matter what level of rider you are; we all face our own personal challenges. Races are such sociable events with a friendly, inclusive and helpful atmosphere... and that includes the men too.
I’ve personally spent several events riding with guys all day and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. That said racing is not the be all and end all of riding a bike. With so many great women’s social rides, clubs, coaching and group holidays there is plenty going on for everyone. Whether you decide to bother racing or not, if you’re on your bike and you’re smiling, you are winning.
Special thanks to Emma Braithwaite, Kat Chaplin, Emily Beckett and Lindsay Hanley for sharing their experiences to help with this article.
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