Why every MTBer should try racing at least once.
Racing. A small world full of big emotions. Fear, excitement, doubt, dreams. I have been there, I have felt them. I used to race quite a lot for a couple of years: some UK downhill races, quite a lot of Enduros and even some Enduro World Series races. Then, suddenly, a knee injury put a stop to it all. And just like that I was out of the loop. I forgot about it and the longer I was away from it, the more I got scared of going back to it. Even just for fun. All I could remember was the fear, exhaustion and pressure that comes with racing. I forgot about the joy, excitement and proudness that goes hand-in-hand with it. Only recently was I reminded of why racing is so damn fun. And why everyone who rides mountain bikes should try it, at least once.
It makes you feel proud
I’ve gone from not racing at all for four years to actually racing three races this year. All three very different: one was a dual slalom, one a downhill race and the other a pump track race. I raced them all “for fun”, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Racing a small grassroots Downhill race in the north of Sweden will make you feel the same emotions as racing a big International Enduro race. Big or small, a race will get your heart beating faster, it will make your stomach turn, and will make you push yourself harder and dig deeper than you thought you could. Most importantly, it will make you feel proud of yourself.
My first race back was in the centre of Sheffield at the end of March this year - the Howard Street Dual Slalom. It’s a rad event put on in the middle of the city and you race down urban features and man-made berms and jumps. Despite it being held at the end of March, there was a huge crowd and an amazing atmosphere. I didn’t really want to do it, but there was a lack of lasses and I felt like I needed to represent, somehow. And I am so happy I did it. Yes it was terrifying, nerve-racking and I didn’t do as well as I wanted. But it was also amazing fun and I was insanely proud of myself for putting myself out there. For trying.
And I felt all of the emotions. I remember losing my chain in my qualifying run and swearing out loud when I crossed the finish-line, I remember winning my second heat thanks to not touching my brakes in a specific section of track and I felt so proud, and I remember the adrenaline rush of being part of it all. Even if I didn’t do as well as I wanted, I walked away proud and happy.
It will challenge you out of your comfort zone
My second race was mentally a lot tougher. It was mid-summer, during the yearly Åre Bike Festival in the north of Sweden. All of my friends were racing this women’s only Downhill race and part of me wanted to give it a go, as I remembered how happy the Dual Slalom race had made me feel. Another part of me didn’t want to get proof of how much slower I was compared to my friends. I already felt like I was falling behind when we were our riding the park together, and it wasn’t doing my self-confidence any favours. To be honest, I was dealing with some pretty dark self-doubt at the time.
Somehow, I ended up signing up for it anyway. I think it was because someone told me that over 50 women of all ages and abilities had entered, a record amount of riders for a Swedish downhill race, and I guess I just wanted to be apart of that. Support it. And in a way, just by signing up and deciding to race I got rewarded, mentally I felt a lot better about myself. You don’t actually have to go send the biggest drop in the park to go outside of your comfort zone. You can do it by simply signing up to a race you’ve been dreading.
It makes the world disappear
Racing down that track reminded me of what it feels like to fly down a track against a clock. Against your own expectations. Against other riders. You might think those four minutes racing your heart out might be the most nerve-wracking of the whole process, but it’s not. Far from actually. You feel all the emotions before and after a race, but during it, everything just fades away. Emotions, people, even the track. Your mind is a blank canvas, focusing on the next berm, next piece of track. It basically feels like you leave the start gate, breath a little, realise you’re halfway down, breath a bit more and then suddenly cross the finish-line. Not until then does the world and all its emotions comes flooding back. If nothing else, it’s just a really cool experience to feel so “in the now”.
In the end I was really happy with my result and my time. Foremost, proud to once again step outside of that comfort zone and challenge myself despite self-doubt and fear. The high is so worth it.
It is just a whole lot of fun
Finally, this year I realised why I used to be so hooked on racing. Simply because it’s just so much fun. Amongst all of the feelings you have come race day, one of the most prominent one will most likely be happiness. I never actually realised how giddy it made me until the last race of the season, a Red Bull Pump Track qualifier event in Järvsö, Sweden. I had a filmer following me during the race, as I was doing a story on it, and when I looked back at the footage whilst editing it, I realised there was an aura of happiness around me. I was giddy like a kid on Christmas and I had this sparkle in my eyes I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I was like a big kid with all my emotions on the outside.
But that’s what racing does to you, it makes you feel. Everything. Good and bad. And mostly, at the end of the day, you’ll walk away with the good ones. Yes, you might get angry and disappointed over something you’ve done, but when that feeling passes, all you’ll remember is the good times you’ve had, the new friends you’ve met and the challenge you’ve stepped up to. So if you’re sat wondering whether or not you should enter that race, my advice is - do it. It’s totally worth it.