“Why the hell are we doing this?”
There was only one topic of conversation in the Ladies’ toilets half an hour ahead of the Swinley Forest Enduro (aka Swinduro) – and that was why any of us had thought it was a good idea to sign up. We could have been at home, feet up, reading the Sunday papers and eating a bacon sandwich. Instead, we were gathered around a slightly feeble hand dryer in a toilet just north of the M3, with anxiety turned up to 11, because we were about to throw ourselves down muddy, rooty trails on mountain bikes – against the clock.
Enduro mountain bike racing, according to the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association ‘allows riders to compete against each other, starting individually, on multiple special stages which are designed to challenge the rider’s technical ability and physical capacity.’ The Swinlely Forest course was a 25km loop with eight timed ‘gravity focussed’ stages within it, each lasting for barely a few minutes.
Most of the climbing (which, thanks to a happy arrangement of slow twitch muscle fibres, is where I do well in XC riding!) was in the untimed transition sections and I’m not particularly quick downhill so I knew I was never going to podium (like ever, in a million years!). But that was fine because it meant I could just ride and have fun without any pressure. It took around three hours to complete the loop. Here’s what I learnt about Enduro on the way round.
- Everyone I spoke to was nervous – though as experienced Enduro rider (and subsequent category winner!) Marcia Ellis pointed out as we waited to start, nerves and excitement are caused by the same chemical reaction – they are in fact, the same thing. So rather than trying to suppress our nervousness, we can harness it simply by renaming it.
- This was undoubtedly the friendliest race I have ever ridden. 35 women took part and we were divided into age catergories and scheduled to set off at different times. But, on the start line, all the women agreed they’d rather set off together. And because the transition sections are not timed, the general vibe was to ride along chatting rather than race from stage to stage.
- Random things we talked about while riding: how big the drops are in the upcoming section, how big the drops were in the last section, where we nearly fell off, where we did fall off, how lovely the flowy trails were, how none of the trails were as bad as we had feared, customised frame paint jobs in duck egg blue, ‘do I follow you on Instagram?’, ‘Isn’t this fun?’ and S Club 7 ( low blood sugar at this point).
- How can it take three hours to ride 25km? Queues. While some stages were empty when we arrived, others had a line of riders waiting to start. We were set off at thirty second intervals, so with up to twenty riders ahead, sometimes we had to wait. It’s a good opportunity to fuel up with an energy bar, and chat (see number 4) but also, take a jacket.
- There were so many whistles. The marashalls used them to signal to each other when the trails were clear – frankly it felt like being on One Man and His Dog, but on mountain bikes.
- Some very jolly and particularly vocal spectators gathered at the most technical sections to shout words of encouragement as we rode past. I have to say that, for me, this was somewhat embarrassing when things went wrong as I like to mess things up in private. However when I got it right it was rather marvellous to have them there, cheering.
- Photographers were lurking on almost every corner of the trails. There were so many that my face hurt from smiling so often. Also, I was wearing my glasses so I look like Ugly Betty in a crash hat in every single image. Next time I’m going to have a hair and make up team on hand at the start of each section, and get a spray tan like they do on Strictly.
- We drank all our water. Even though it was only 25km, we had drained our Camelbaks by the start of section eight. Physically, enduro is much harder than I had anticipated!
- By the time we’d finished we had ridden some brilliant trails, chatted a lot, sprinted up the hills when it wasn’t necessary* ( *that was just me, tbh), chatted a lot, pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, chatted a lot and got home in one piece – and everyone I spoke to said they felt amazing.
- I might have inspired someone else to have a go… as I was leaving Swinley I passed three female riders who were sitting outside the café. They weren’t part of the event, but had seen women riding it and had so many questions – ‘how hard is it?’ ‘How big are the drops?” “How good at riding do you need to be?’ – everything I would have asked three hours before!
To cut a long conversation short, they’re going to sign up for next year.