“Endurance - the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way"
The weekend before last I took part in my first ever endurance mountain bike race, and as it turned out, it was the exact opposite to unpleasant. It was awesome! My event of choice was the 2021 Dirty Nocka, hosted by Run and Ride UK at my favourite and local venue of Cannock chase.
Cannock is one of the most popular trail centres in the UK, well known and loved for it’s Follow the Dog and Monkey trails. Alongside of these main trails, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is littered with off piste trails established over the course of decades of off-road racing, so is a natural choice for an endurance event.
The chosen course was 10km of classic trails, descending down to the Birches Valley visitors centre and then climbing all way back up to the Takeroo Camper site, covering 751ft of climbing per lap. It would feature a variety of features from tight and technical wooded descents to long and gradual fire road climbs, and of course it was littered with the classic Cannock cobbles and stones.
This event was a very last-minute addition to my race calendar, following the completion of the UK National series I was due a rest but couldn’t let this race pass me by. Due to this I headed in un-supported; it would be just me, my Intense Sniper FRO and my hydration back blasting round and having fun in the 3hr Solo Male category.
Because of this I was super relaxed, rocking up signing on and heading straight to the start, opting to save my energy for the race and not head out for a practice lap. The start straight was pretty narrow, and if you weren’t toward the front of the 200+ entrants you’d risk losing a lot of time. Gridding was a free for all so knowing this, I battled my way through the crowds to to get as far up as I could, ending up inside the top twenty.
Off the start I tried to weave my way through the riders, with aim of hitting the single track near the front, this opened up the trails and enabled me to carry decent trail speed sitting in third wheel. My tactics were to treat the race start like a normal XCO race and go flat out for 20minutes, open up a gap and then settle into a pace for the rest of the race. For the first lap I sat in wheel of the lead rider in the 6hr pairs category, he was setting a great pace enabling me to open a gap but save some energy. I also didn’t know the course so I was able to watch and learn at pace, as he handily pointed out some of the blind and fancy lines.
I stuck to his back wheel for my targeted twenty minutes then started to back off, I could tell we were pretty close to the start/finish line though so didn’t back it off to much as I was feeling good and thought it a fitting point to settle in for the long run. I completed lap one in 25 minutes so now had a base time to work off, but from then on it would be heading into a world of unknowns.
I decided to aim for Z3 pacing overall, putting a bit more effort on the climbs and relaxing on the descents. Over the next few laps, the course we clear and I managed to put in 26-27minute laps and felt great at the half way point. I was out on my own and couldn’t see any of my competitors so decided to play it safe and stick with this pace, something I felt I could hold to the end.
Heading into the final laps I felt good, but was catching up the back markers, meaning I had to utilise little bursts of energy to pass off the racing line, this would start to take its toll a bit and I was stating to getting a little concerned I’d over exerted myself. Everyone was pretty compliant slowing down or moving, when possible, which is always much appreciated. As I crossed the line on lap 6 at the 2hr 40 mark I thought I was going to have to do another lap, so focused on the job in hand, I didn’t even notice I had finished until I crossed the line and commentator said I had won, which lead to a very poor victory celebration or lack off, oops!
This was poor planning on my part and actually cost me some time as I was planning on emptying everything I had left into the final lap, still you can’t complain with a win and my first ever endurance event.
It’s safe to say I had a great time, and the event was a fantastic introduction to endurance racing. It’s certainly hooked my interest in the discipline and something I will look at doing more of in the future. Great job Run and Ride.
Next up I have the Cotswold Sprint Duathlon, then it’s time to put the lycra away and relax for a few weeks ahead of next year!