‘Well, this is a first.’
Here I am on the start line of the final race of the day at Round 1 of the Scottish mountain bike cross country champs series https://www.sxc.org.uk and all I can see in front of me are row upon row of riders.
Because I’m sat right at the back of the grid.
It’s been my first ‘gridding’ experience and it sure wasn’t like this when I last raced a mtb in anger – oh, about 25 years ago. This final race – mine – is made up of 5 categories:
Elite Men & Women (insanely fast)
Sport Men (stupidly fast)
Junior Men & Women (see previous/could do with a square meal or six)
Veteran Men (old guys the decade below me who are still frisky)
…and Grand Vet Men (yep – you guessed it).
Riders are called in seeded order to the start area where they are arranged in rows of 3 from the start line backwards. The order is based on previous race results – where they exist – or the whim of the organisers. And clearly being English in Scotland with no form whatsoever means there’s only one place to put me – after the humiliation of having to wait while every other name is called (sigh).
I turn to the bloke next to me after we both catch each other looking behind just to check that we are indeed, the last:
‘You got the same strategy as me huh? Pick ‘em off one at a time…’
Family Mouncey had fled the building site that is our house at the moment and headed north towards Perth on a wet Friday evening before turning sharp left to end up here http://www.comriecroft.com We’d visited twice previously and fallen a little in love with the Norwegian Kata accommodation – half wood half canvas tepee built around woodburner and sleeping platform – set in the old forest threaded by mountain bike trails.
‘A Mothers’ Day like you’ve never had before!’ I’d said to Mrs Mouncey as I’d handed her a race entry back in December – with one for the rest of us just so she didn’t feel left out.
I’ve seen her more appreciative, I have to say.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said ‘we have time to practice!’
Practice we did – though not really on the biking bit: The last few months have seen us head to crags and climbing walls as the new wholesome family activity of choice this winter. It’s been Joe our youngest who’s been riding most with his biking buddies: The rest of us?
Not so much.
In my defence I’d had a plan for us all – and you know how that turned out – and for me in particular: Get A Coach.
Now, the regular readers among you will recall that my running had been curtailed at the end of last summer by the minor inconvenience of a broken ankle suffered – somewhat ironically – by fellracing. Autumn had been spent in repair and rehab and that meant lots strength-conditioning work with my toys in my garage. December rolled around and it was perfectly obvious that Mr Grumpy needed a new challenge: The prospect of returning to running silly long stuff still left me cold, and while the prospect of more silly short stuff got me hot my ankle was still not 100%.
Something else then.
I used to love my mtb racing: I was never any great shakes and I recall it being quite painful on lots of levels – but boy was it fun/hard/furious/satisfying. Those were the days when I could happily eat a packet of chocolate hob nobs with one pot of tea in one sitting and still sport ripped abs…
Yeah – some of that then.
I figured a few months biking focus would be good for the ankle and a fine foundation for a refreshed return to running. I set a goal to be on a start line by Easter and to be in shape enough to get round without looking and sounding like an arse. I wanted a test event a few weeks before Easter – Scotland, Mothers’ Day ‘cos we’ll need an escape from The Builders by then – well aware that the only way to really know where you’re actually at is to do as you plan to do before you plan to really do it.
I also needed to keep it simple and that meant being told when and what to do by someone who knew what they were talking about and who got me too.
My work at the time was a huge mental and emotional ask which meant I just didn’t have the energy beans to figure my own stuff out as well. I just needed to contract that out and be told – so that’s what I did.
The Cunning Plan said a January start would put me in Scotland with 10 weeks training under my wheels. That plan quickly collided with Real Life in the shape of a respiratory infection which meant I couldn’t do any meaningful training till mid-Feb – which put me at my test event with a mighty 4 weeks training (cringe).
Well this should be interesting/humiliating/painful (delete as).
By 2pm that afternoon family precedents had been well and truly set: Mrs Mouncey had finished smiling and intact, and Joe had also handled his biggest competitive challenge in his 13 years with some style. Over to you then, Dad…
AND f**k me if everyone didn’t just shoot off at the (loooong uphill) start!
I mean, I expected most people to shoot off – but surely I could stay with some? Couldn’t I?
It took me 400m (halfway up the climb) to catch the bloke in front.
400m to do an emergency reframe of some of my goals, lower the bar and be at peace with all that.
400m to continue to piloting my steed, keep my effort-emotions under control and trying not to translate the shouts of support for this tail-end Charlie into good-natured patronising ribbing for the slow bloke at the back, (bless him).
And my bar was set pretty low to start with ‘cos hey, I’d only gone and chosen a national series event (?!), I’m really rusty and have done a whole 4 weeks training. On the plus side was that I knew there’d be a bunch of people who would not finish for various reasons, whereas I had a good engine and could outlast most people if I were smart in the early stages and managed not to wrap myself round a tree. So:
400m in and I congratulate myself on having already achieved Goal 2 Part 2: I have indeed started at the back!
After that it was, I suppose, a chance to practice the skills of enjoying the new and novel dimensions of a familiar experience:
Being lapped by the top boys and girls / meant I could watch the best at work.
Being passed by the top boys and girls on twisty-gaspy singletrack / meant I got to practice how-when to do that so that we both could keep riding.
Having space to ride in rather than a competitive ding-dong / meant I got to do more of my thing my way.
Having Family Mouncey in support (and time-space to appreciate ‘em).
The last lap rolled around and I still hadn’t had a major spill. All that was left was to empty the tank over the next 20mins, staying upright-ish and think clearly while my legs – and family - did their screaming thing.
Sometime later Dad did indeed finish intact having held a consistent pace and - according to those that know about these things – distinguished himself and his House with honour.